In my “Responsibility for North Korea's Nuclear Test” post of October 15 I mis-stated some of the complexities involved in the question of whether N. Korea was actually proceeding with uranium enrichment as the Bush 43 administration charged in October 2002. I wrote: “But, in the summer of 2002, there was increasing evidence that the North Koreans had resumed their nuclear program.” Since then I have come across an article by Selig Harrison, Director of the Asia Program and Chairman of the Task Force on U.S. Korea Policy at the Center for International Policy. In Foreign Affairs, January-February 2005, he published an article entitled “Did North Korea Cheat?"
Taken together Harrison’s and Pollack’s articles support the following conclusions:
1) The Bush 43 administration hurried the confrontational visit of Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly to North Korea in October 2002 to block more conciliatory approaches by the South Koreans and Japanese. Harrison wrote: “Kelly's confrontation with Kang [N. Korea’s First Deputy Foreign Minister] seems to have been inspired by the growing alarm felt in Washington in the preceding five months over the ever more conciliatory approach that Seoul and Tokyo had been taking toward Pyongyang; by raising the uranium issue, the Bush administration hoped to scare Japan and South Korea into reversing their policies. The chain of events leading to the confrontation began in April 2002, when the two Koreas decided to move ahead with plans for North-South railroad links and for the development of a new industrial zone at Kaesong in North Korea, where some 1,000 South Korean firms were expected to establish factories. These steps required U.S. approval to de-mine the demilitarized zone. The United States strongly resisted the thaw, refused to approve the de-mining, and threatened to block the Kaesong project by restricting the use of U.S.-licensed and other sensitive technology by companies investing in the zone. (U.S.-South Korean tensions over the technology issue have since intensified.) But in August 2002, South Korea's then president, Kim Dae Jung, personally appealed to President George W. Bush to drop his objections, and on September 12, after an intense diplomatic struggle, the Pentagon reluctantly gave the go-ahead for de-mining. American anxieties only grew, however, when, on September 17, 2002, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Pyongyang to discuss the normalization of relations--a visit that Japan had been quietly exploring for more than nine months without telling the United States. Washington, in fact, found out about the trip only three weeks before it occurred, when Koizumi presented the upcoming visit as a fait accompli to Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Koizumi did not ask for U.S. permission to go to North Korea, and he refused to call off the trip even after Armitage revealed Washington's suspicions about a secret North Korean uranium program.”
2) The Bush administration’s policy toward North Korea involved yet another instance of publicly reporting a worst case scenario based upon equivocal intelligence. As Harrison wrote: “The administration's underlying mistake--in the case of the North Korean uranium mystery, as in Iraq--has been treating a worst-case scenario as revealed truth.” Read Harrison’s article for his substantiating arguments.
3) Point 2) is also supported by Pollack’s account of the changes in intelligence conclusions about N. Korea that occurred immediately upon Bush taking office: “The reporting on the North’s nuclear weapons program varied little during the 1990s, but estimates released since 2001 have been highly inconsistent. In 1993, the Central Intelligence Agency first concluded that in the late 1980s “North Korea . . . ha[d] produced enough plutonium for at least one, and possibly two, nuclear weapons.” This judgment was reaffirmed in all unclassified intelligence assessments throughout the latter half of the 1990s, up to intelligence reporting in mid-2001. Though the CIA assessment was widely interpreted as evidence that North Korea had one or two nuclear weapons in its possession, neither the intelligence community nor any senior U.S. official offered a definitive statement to this effect during the remainder of the 1990s. However, the intelligence community assessment shifted noticeably in December 2001, when an unclassified version of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) asserted that “[t]he Intelligence Community judged in the mid-1990s that North Korea had produced one, possibly two, nuclear weapons.” Subsequent intelligence reporting further altered earlier estimates. In an unclassified assessment provided to the Congress on 19 November 2002, the CIA stated: “The U.S. . . . has assessed since the early 1990s that the North has one or possibly two [nuclear] weapons using plutonium it produced prior to 1992.” So for many years intelligence said N. Korea had produced enough plutonium for one or two nuclear weapons; after Bush 43 took office it was asserted that not just plutonium but weapons themselves had been produced; and, finally, the date of successful production of weapons is moved earlier and earlier. This is the familiar Bush 43 M.O.; threats are magnified by reinterpreting intelligence to produce the worst possible scenario and encourage support for a “hard-line” policy.
4) Finally, Harrison made an important point that the Bush 43 confrontation over an alleged uranium enrichment program was precisely the wrong priority because the major threat from N. Korea involved their use of plutonium and advancing their plutonium program: “Right now, however, the United States confronts the disturbing immediate reality that the breakdown of the 1994 freeze agreement has made the United States less secure. The danger posed by North Korea's extant plutonium program has grown since the United States announced it was no longer bound by the Agreed Framework, and it is much greater than the hypothetical threat posed by a suspected uranium-enrichment program about which little is known. It is high time for the United States to switch course and deal with North Korea's plutonium first. Only after a relaxation of tensions with Pyongyang, through step-by-step mutual concessions, is the full truth about its uranium capabilities likely to be known, and only then can definitive action be taken to put the North Korean nuclear genie back in the bottle.” [The plutonium vs. uranium enrichment paths to nuclear weapons is discussed by Pollack, p. 30.]
I conclude from all this that Bush 43 North Korea policy is an excellent example of my primary contention that Pseudo-Conservatives can’t do foreign policy because they reduce the many basic tools of foreign policy to military threats, military action and “tough” posturing. In many ways foreign policy “hard-liners” resemble insecure, dysfunctional parents who try to raise their children through repetitive displays of “toughness” and harsh discipline; but behind the façade of “toughness” lays weakness and insecurity.