The hermits have the bomb!

So 조선/North Korea tested a nuclear weapon (probably). I haven't bothered to post till now because it just doesn't seem like that big a deal. A country with no real allies, constantly threatened by the most powerful country in the world, feels the need to develop nuclear weapons? There are no grounds for either surprise or outrage here.

If the Clinton administration had actually followed thru with its commitments under the 1994 Agreed Framework, we wouldn't be in this mess. (It's worth emphasizing that the USA broke that agreement at least as badly as North Korea did. For some reason the media only remember 김정일/Kim Jeong'il's perfidy.) The Bush administration repudiated the entire thing, and things have been spiralling donward since.

There's a few obvious principles that we should be adhering to, but which are never raised in the current "debate".

1) The United States has no right to forbid other countries to make nuclear weapons as long as it continues to have them.

2) The United States should be following 한국/South Korea's lead since these decisions affect South Korea more than any other country except North Korea. Instead, the Bush administration has openly rejected the South's strategy, which is to try to integrate the North into the region politically and economically without the use of military threats.

3) The real victims here are the people of North Korea, who suffer from political tyranny and economic collapse. Most of them are living so close to disaster that any increase in instability is likely to kill a good many of them. The Bush administration's ideal solution - the collapse of the North Korean government - would lead to a humanitarian catastrophe and heavy burdens on both 中国/China and South Korea. Neither one would manage those burdens in the interests of the destitute North Koreans.

Clearly the best approach under the circumstances is a return to the Agreed Framework and an intensification of South Korea's efforts to build connections with the North. That means the United States should pay for light water nuclear reactors that can replace the energy lost from the North's current reactors (which can much more easily be used to make bombs), provide security guarantees, normalize relations with North Korea, and support South Korean efforts. I'm not usually one to champion market penetration, but since the alternatives in North Korea are war, internal collapse, or the status quo, there doesn't seem like a better alternative.

Yet we should go further. If the USA wants to stop proliferation, the only fair way - and the only practical way - is to move toward total global nuclear disarmament. We're passing up a golden opportunity to rid the world of this terrible menace once and for all. The USA faces no real enemies, and even unilateral nuclear disarmament wouldn't reduce American security. But because of the USA and its belligerence, that's not true for any other country. The United States could bring a lot to the table - elimination of its own arsenal, offers of non-aggression treaties, development assistance. It has even greater leverage over allies like Britain and Israel.

In this moment of low superpower tensions the elimination of nuclear weapons could be accomplished relatively easily. I'm afraid that someday people will look back and curse us that we let the moment slip by.


Patrick said...

Do you have any idea what Bush & Co. mean when they insist they tried bilateral talks with no success? Every Korea expert I've seen has averred that this administration did *not* try bilateral talks with N. Korea at any point. Perhaps Bush and Rice are including Clinton and Albright in their "we", but that seems unusually broad-minded; I'm more inclined to credit this as an outright lie.

Jake said...

they may be referring to when they talked one-on-one with the north koreans in the course of the six-party talks. of course the real problem (contra partisan hacks who have been criticizing the administration) is not that the administration refuses real bilateral talks. it's that the administration is unwilling to make the concessions that would make such talks successful. in fact the six-party talks are probably the best way to resolve these issues because a multilateral effort to end north korea's isolation is so essential. but american and to lesser extent japanese obstructionism is preventing that.

Chris said...

i suppose it's obvious, but it's infuriating that no news story bothers to mention just why it's so bad that north korea has the bomb. i guess you're just supposed to know, i mean, their leader is evil and all.