[Update 2 Jan 08: “North Korea failed to fulfill its October promise to declare all its nuclear programs by the end of 2007 — and the United States did not make a big deal out of it.” — WaPo, Blaine Harden]
SO ENDS THE YEAR 2007, with this terse statement from the State Department spokesman:
In September 2005, the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea agreed on a Joint Statement with North Korea that charted the way forward toward achieving a nuclear weapons free Korean peninsula. Under the terms of the Initial Actions Agreement of February 2007, North Korea shut down operations at the Yongbyon nuclear facility where it had produced weapons-grade plutonium and international inspectors returned to North Korea to verify and monitor this process. In October 2007, North Korea committed to declare all its nuclear programs and to disable the three key nuclear facilities at Yongbyon by the end of December 2007 as an initial step toward eventually abandoning all its nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs. The other parties, in turn, agreed to cooperate in economic and energy assistance to North Korea. Such assistance has been provided under a formula of “actions for actions” as the North carried out its commitments to disable its nuclear facilities.
It is unfortunate that North Korea has not yet met its commitments by providing a complete and correct declaration of its nuclear programs and slowing down the process of disablement. We will continue to work with our close allies Japan and South Korea, and partners China and Russia, as we urge North Korea to deliver a complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear weapons programs and nuclear weapons and proliferation activities and complete the agreed disablement. The United States is committed to fulfilling our obligations under the Six Party agreements as North Korea fulfills all its obligations. [Press Statement, December 30, 2007]
Let’s review just how we arrived at this woeful state:
Phase I: Diplomatic Paralysis
- 2002: At President Bush’s request, the Spanish Navy intercepts North Korean missiles on the way to Yemen. Bush later relents and releases the shipment.
- 2002: After wasting a year on a seemingly interminable policy review, the Bush Administration rightly decides that North Korea had been cheating on the first Agreed Framework, brokered by the Clinton Administration in 1994. In 2002, the Bush Administration confronted the North Koreans with evidence that they were working on an undeclared uranium enrichment program, and astonishingly, they admitted it. So now what?
- 2002-2005: More of the same. The policy review has solved nothing, hawk-dove factionalism paralyzes the Bush Administration. The hawks get to talk tough, and so does President Bush himself on occasion, but the doves are still pretty much running the show. Agreed Framework 1.0 gives way to endless negotiations in which everyone mostly ignores the hawkish things Bush says but never really acts on. The United States insists on dragging Japan, South Korea, China, and Russia along. It publicly insists on C-V-I-D: complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement. Years of experience have taught the North Koreans that we’re always bluffing. Japan lines up behind the United States; nominal U.S. ally South Korea publicly declares itself neutral but actually lines up squarely behind China to help cover for North Korea. Occasionally, North Korea bothers to show up.
- 2003: Saddam Hussein puts down a down payment to buy North Korean SCUDs with a range exceeding U.N. limits. North Korea reneges on the deal when the invasion is imminent and keeps Saddam’s money.
- May 2004: Libya turns over a stockpile of uranium hexafluoride supplied by North Korea.
- November 2004: In response to reports of mass atrocities, including concentration camps, gas chamber killings, and infanticides, Congress unanimously passes the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004. The State Department quietly blocks implementation to avoid upsetting North Korea, South Korea, or China. China continues to string North Korean refugees together with wires through their wrists and noses and lead thousands of them back to torture or death in North Korea. The U.S. admits a few dozen. South Korea also discourages North Korean refugees.
Phase II: Financial Pressure
- August 23, 2005: The feds arrest dozens of Chinese gangsters in the unfortunately named Operation Smoking Dragon. Among the contraband seized: a large quantity of counterfeit U.S. dollars, printed in North Korea.
- September 15, 2005: Treasury announces sanctions on Banco Delta Asia (BDA), a small Macau bank that serves as the main switch for North Korea’s mostly illegal foreign exchange, including its drug trafficking, cigarette counterfeiting, and currency counterfeiting revenues (I have no link to verify the date of publication, but I confimed this in a personal conversation with Undersecretary of the Treasury Daniel Glaser). The sanctions trigger a run on BDA; Macanese authorities step in and freeze North Korea’s assets to prevent its collapse. Other reports suggest that other Chinese banks, including the Bank of China, could be named as money launderers for Kim Jong Il.
- September 19, 2005: Amazing but true! North Korea overlooks this insult to its national honor and signs a “joint statement” agreeing in principle to denuclearize … for the right price.
- September 20, 2005: Before the General Tso’s chicken has even passed from the alimentary canals of the North Korean negotiators, North Korean radio “clarifies” that the United States will have to build it two light-water nuclear reactors before North Korea moves forward with its part of the deal. The U.S. State Department does its best to ignore this and pretend it made some actual progress.
- Fall 2005-Spring 2006: Treasury officials fly around Asia and elsewhere, making all of Kim Jong Il’s remaining bankers offers they can’t refuse. Most close the North Korean accounts in their banks. By the end of 2005, Kim Jong Il’s may be losing the capacity to continue feeding his army. While 29,500 U.S. troops are still defending South Korea from the threat of a North Korean invasion, South Korea does its best to undermine the U.S. strategy with more aid to North Korea. Total South Korean aid to the North from 1997 to 2007 totals approximately $7 billion.
- January 2006: U.S. negotiator Chris Hill is quoted thusly: “[T]hose f***ers say they’re going to go right ahead and build nuclear weapons no matter what we do.” Why we never take them literally is beyond me.
- July 4, 2006: Despite a lot of limp-wristed warnings from the neighbors, North Korea conducts multiple missile tests. The test of the long-range Taepodong II flops, but the short and medium-range missile tests succeed.
- July 19, 2006: John Bolton rams Resolution 1695 through the U.N. Security Council.
- October 9, 2006: North Korea tests a nuclear weapon, with limited success.
- October 14, 2006: The U.N. Security Council responds with the unusually tough Resolution 1718, which sanctions North Korea’s various WMD programs and requires U.N. member states to “ensure” that money they send to North Korea isn’t financing its banned programs. It also sanctions the luxury items North Korea uses to reward his cronies.
- November 2006: The Democrats win control of Congress, dramatically increasing the odds that the extortion money North Korea has been demanding will be appropriated. Two of Congress’s leaders on Korea policy leave: Henry Hyde retires, and Jim Leach is narrowly defeated for reelection.
Phase III: Agreed Framework 2.0
- December 2006: After a semi-secret U.S.-North Korean bilateral meeting in Berlin, it’s apparent that the United States is about to fold like a cheap suit.
- February 13, 2007: Same deal, different year: The United States and North Korea sign Agreed Framework 2.0, a vague, amorphous, unstructured nukes-for-aid agreement. The deal buries any resolution of North Korea’s human rights atrocities, its international kidnappings, its counterfeiting and dope dealing, and its other WMD programs to low-level “working groups.”
- April 7, 2007: The U.S. green-lights a North Korean arms shipment to Ethiopia, notwithstanding that fact that the shipment is a direct violation of UNSCR 1718.
- April 13, 2007: North Korea misses Agreed Framework 2.0’s only deadline, by which North Korea was supposed to shut down its plutonium-producing reactor at Yongbyon.
- June 13, 2007: Four months and counting, and the Yongbyon reactor is still operational.
- June 2007: To save its flagging deal, the United States Federal Reserve launders $25 million of North Korea’s illegally earned BDA money. The GAO later opens an investigation to determine whether the transfer violated U.S. laws against money laundering. Because North Korea isn’t required to account for how it spends the money, the transaction arguably violates UNSCR 1718, too.
- July 2007: North Korea finally shuts down the Yongbyon reactor, which is said to be nearly worn out from old age and overuse anyway.
- September 2007: Israeli warplanes bomb one or more mysterious sites in Syria. Subsequent reports claim that the sites contain nuclear material supplied by North Korea, or a nuclear reactor built with North Korean help. The Syrians and the North Koreans vehemently deny those reports, but the Syrians quickly bury the rubble under a huge mound of sand. The Bush Administration appears to try to bury the story.
- October 3, 2007: North Korea agrees to fully disclose all of its nuclear programs and materials by December 31st, but is said to still deny having the uranium enrichment program that unraveled the first Agreed Framework in 2002. North Korea also refuses U.S. demands to disclose its processed plutonium, its finished nuclear weapons, or what nuclear material it has proliferated.
- December 2007: In an effort to refute U.S. suspicions about uranium enrichment, North Korea supplies samples of aluminum tubes to the United States. The U.S. side finds traces of enriched uranium on the tubes.
- December 6, 2007: Amid reports that North Korea could miss the December 31 deadline, President Bush sends Chris Hill to Pyongyang, to deliver a letter reminding Kim Jong Il of his obligations.
- December 20, 2007: China and the United States send senior diplomats to Pyongyang to cajole North Korea into meeting its obligations. To no avail.
- December 26, 2007: North Korea announces that it will slow or stop the disablement of the Yongbyon reactor.
- December 27, 2007: North Korea again refuses to provide a full disclosure of its nuclear programs, weapons, and materials before the end of the year.
- December 31, 2007: The deadline for North Korea’s disclosure passes. We get no disclosure, but the sanctions that nearly drove Kim Jong Il from his throne are broken.
- January 2008: The last year of the Bush Administration begins; the Administration and the North Koreans have just 12 more months to run out the clock while pretending that this diplomacy is still viable. And yet, nothing has been solved or will be as long as Kim Jong Il
has nothing to fearlives.
A postscript: If history tells the story of Bush’s North Korea diplomacy accurately, it will be story of talk without action, an extension of Clintonian diplomacy punctuated by empty hawkish words. This was interrupted by one 18-month period during which the Treasury Department’s sanctions not only forced Kim Jong Il to deal with us, but might just have driven him from his throne.
Why did the Bush Administration abandon such an effective strategy when experts tell us that that it was working? Why did Bush waste eight years saying one thing and doing another? Tradition, mostly, though clientitis certainly played a role.