If tomorrow’s Big Announcement from North Korea isn’t that the Great Leader has gone to the Great Meat Locker, it may well be that the North, having met with such stunning success at blackmailing the United States, will throw some new tantrum at South Korea. I would not credit the North with diplomatic genius for its success at isolating and blackmailing its enemies one at a time. The trick isn’t new. It seems more fair to credit us for the crashing stupidity of letting them.
The loss of South Korean aid, which added up to billions of dollars, must have been painful for the regime, and thus far, nothing the United States has given them has made up for that loss. That may soon change.
1. The regime gets bailed out again.
Two years ago, our Treasury Department nearly strangled Kim Jong Il’s palace economy. Today, in exchange for an incomplete freeze, partial disclosure, and no disarmament at all, we’ve thrown away our best economic leverage.
The State Department, incidentally, wants you to believe that the North still remains under a variety of U.S. sanctions and lists a myriad of bilateral sanctions, most of which have no real effect. De-listing the North as a terror sponsor opens the way for a massive inflow of international loan money in the form of IMF, World Bank, and Asian Development Bank loans (executive orders 12,938 and 13,382 apply to individually designated North Korean entities — various mining and trading companies — not the regime as a whole). Given the North’s past history, we can be certain that not one chon of that will ever be repaid, and if the loans don’t flow soon, it’s just a matter of time before the North reverts to what always works and resorts to extortion.
In other words, de-listing has incalculable significance where it matters — the palace economy. Just imagine all of the centrifuges, barbed wire, cognac, and sarin they can buy now.
2. We lose influence in Japan and upset the entire regional security framework.
The Washington Post also describes the bitterness Bush’s decision has caused in Japan:
“I think it is an act of betrayal,” said Teruaki Masumoto, a brother of one of the eight Japanese who were stolen away by North Korean agents in the 1970s and ’80s and who the Japanese government says are still alive in North Korea. Masumoto is secretary general of the Association of the Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea.
“Why did the United States remove North Korea from the list when it is clear to anyone’s eyes that the North is a terrorism-assisting country?” asked Sakie Yokota, 72, whose daughter, Megumi Yokota, was 13 when she was kidnapped nearly 31 years ago and is by far the most famous of the abductees.
Struggling to explain the emotional resonance of the abductee issue for the Japanese people, a Foreign Ministry official in Tokyo earlier this year compared Megumi Yokota to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the late Nobel Prize-winning novelist who made the world aware of the network of Soviet prisons known as the gulag.
In Washington on Saturday, Japanese Finance Minister Shoichi Nakagawa told reporters that the U.S. decision was “extremely regrettable.” He said that “abductions amount to terrorist acts. [Washington Post]
It’s already clear enough that meaningfully disarming North Korea will not be a part of President Bush’s legacy, but this move will badly damage relations with out most important ally in the Pacific and could begin a long decline in U.S. influence in that region. The message received by everyone in Japan is that the United States can’t be relied on, and they will feel greater pressure to build a defense that doesn’t rely on us, either. Our decision makers have placed their own egos over statesmanship, our national interest, and the interests of our friends.
Nothing kindles an arms race quite like tossing aside the security interests of nations that has counted on you to play regional peacekeeper. Granted, I question the returns on the cost was pay to fill that role, and I welcome the rearmament of Japan and South Korea, so long as they don’t shoot at each other. The inevitable result of dependence on America, beyond expense to us, is that either we keep our commitments or we won’t. Damned if we do and we get ourselves embroiled in Korean War II. Damned if we don’t, and you can already see the seeds being sown for Taiwan to go the way of one country/two systems, which gradually becomes Beijing’s system.
Don’t you remember where power comes from, silly?
3. Nothing is solved, but feel-good diplomacy triumphs.
You can’t help but think that it serves Bush right that Colin Powell, who stayed Bush’s hand against North Korea for the duration of his first term, has turned around and kicked Bush in the teeth by endorsing Obama. Then again, if you’re watching closely enough, Obama can seem more like a continuation of the Bush administration than Bush’s co-partisan. It tells you something about what’s in store for us that McCain opposed Bush’s decision and Obama supported it. Not long ago, Obama said he’d oppose de-listing without a strong verification mechanism. So how strong does this sound?
Officials acknowledged that they do not have permission to visit the site of North Korea’s 2006 nuclear test or any military facilities possibly involved in the nuclear program. Experts will have access to facilities at the Yongbyon reactor site and some academic institutions; visits to additional sites will be subject to negotiations. Officials said it will be months, if not years, before questions about North Korea’s nuclear program are answered.
“This is going to be a bumpy road,” said Assistant Secretary of State Paula A. DeSutter, the chief of the verification bureau. “However, we are building a road.”
In a sign of internal tensions, DeSutter, whose office was barred from knowing the details of the deal until Friday morning, declined to dismiss complaints about it from John R. Bolton, the former ambassador to the United Nations and her former boss as undersecretary for arms control in Bush’s first term. “John is the epitome of a skeptical policymaker, and that’s appropriate,” she said.
Although Bolton is a well-known hawk on North Korea, other experts also have expressed concerns.
“There is a real danger that Pyongyang will pull a bait and switch now that sanctions have been lifted,” said Michael J. Green, Bush’s former top aide for Asia policy. “The credibility of this agreement really hangs on what happens next, including how we repair the damage done with Tokyo.” [Washington Post]
We — and our allies — can expect much more of this silky, self-gratifying cotton candy diplomacy in the future, but it’s not as if the Republicans have exactly earned the nation’s continued confidence on this issue. It may take an Obama presidency for the Republicans to learn to stand for something again.