North Korean nukes: beyond the point of no return?

Though North Korea isn’t much in the news these days; the situation there seems to be drifting dangerously. North Korea claims to have re-processed 8000 spent fuel rods to extract plutonium. It may have a couple of bombs already is probably building more. It seems to have toughened its negotiating position of late.

The strategy of the Bush administration has been incomprehensible. Early on they seemed to think that talking tough and threatening the North Koreans would force them to back down before any serious negotiation. When that didn’t work the US retreated and started to negotiate but in such a half-hearted manner that the talks went nowhere. There are no serious military options for attacking North Korea which means that either the US must make a deal or accept North Korean nukes. This reality doesn’t seem to have sunk in yet and the US appears to be flailing around without a strategy.

Perhaps a successful deal will be reached in 2004 but I don't think the chances great:
  1. Bush will be distracted by the election which will possibly reduce US bargaining power as well . Bush doesn’'t want a foreign policy crisis on the Korean peninsula.
    2)The more time North Korea has to make nukes the greater its bargaining power.
    3)The more nukes and nuclear facilities the North Koreans have the harder it will be to verify any deal that is reached.
    If a deal isn’t agreed and successfully implemented, then by the end of the decade North Korea could have dozens of nuclear bombs and missiles to deliver it to large parts of the world including the West Coast of the US. It could also sell the nukes to terrorists. The implications are staggering; it would be one of the greatest disasters of world history.

    What is Bush’s plan to avoid this?

Hell if I know. I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes. I think he has two broad strategies.

  1. Accept N. Korean nukes as a fait accompli, attempt to save some face
  2. Try to work with China and others in the region to threaten a economic blockade of the North, risking war to force the North to agree to real and verifiable disarmament. I think this would hopelessly alienate the S. Koreans, since it would increase the economic suffering of the already suffering N. Korean people.

Neither is an attractive option.

Let China handle it…its their neck of the woods after all. Why does the US have to get involved in this thing? After all, the Chinese want to be considered a world power…they should be able to handle this thing as it is in their own region after all.

I’m not sure what Amerca COULD do in any case. We could certainly bring in the military option. That would be a Bad Thing though. We have already (afaik) layed out our position, which is that NK must come back into compliance with the non-proliferation treaty they signed. What more could we do?


Why should the US be involved?
First because North Korean nukes are a vital threat to its security. Since when does the US rely on the PRC to deal its fundamental security interests?

Secondly with the foolish “axis of evil” speech , the US has put itself right in the middle of the issue. The North Koreans have , not surprisingly, interpreted it as a threat to their regime and want security guarantees from the US before they give up their nukes.

The U.S. strategy has been to engage North Korea’s neighbors - mainly China. China is the only country with any real leverage over the North Koreans, because China supplies of what North Korea needs to survive.

This strategy appears to have worked to some degree - China is now engaged, and there have been some negotiations between China and North Korea that appear to have gotten the North Koreans to offer some concessions.

But frankly, the silence around this issue scares me. What happened to all those ‘red lines’ that the North Koreans were not supposed to step over? They’ve stepped over at least two or three of them so far, to no effect. So this situation seems to me to be extremely dangerous.

It would be easy to criticize the Bush administration for this, except for one thing - no one has proposed a plausible alternative strategy that makes any sense. The fact is, the North Korean problem is possibly unsolvable. At least, I haven’t heard of any good solutions to date.

An alternative strategy? Here is one: A ten point plan by Curt Wheldon, the GOP vice-chairman of the House Armed Services committee, to which the North Korean foreign minister reacted positively. No guarantee it would work of course but it’s vastly better than the current strategy of twiddling thumbs and waiting for the PRC to deliver.
A good Slate article about the plan:

Sam Stone,
I remember you saying that it was totally unacceptable that North Korea be allowed to re-process the spent fuel rods in Yongbyon. That particular “red line” has been crossed and the US did nothing. What do you have to say about that?

I have to say that it sucks. In fact I just said that I find that extremely dangerous.

The Weldon proposal sounds great. I’ve got an even better one: “Hey, North Korea! Get rid of all your missiles, open your borders, free your people, reform your Marxist government, and let’s all have a big tea party!”

Think they’ll go for it?

In other words, Weldon’s proposal sounds optimistic to the point of self-delusion. I don’t care whether their foreign minister ‘reacts positively’ to it - they’ll react positively to anything that doesn’t have a chance of being implemented, but which allows them some political posturing.

The previous agreement between Clinton and the North Koreans was a similar, “Get rid of your nukes, and we’ll give you lots of goodies” plan. All it did was cause the North Koreans to go underground with their nuclear program, and then re-open their original plant anyway.

The problem is, I don’t see ANY of these plans working. Not Bush’s, not Weldon’s. North Korea has us stalemated, and they know it.

The Wheldon plan is hardly as trivial as: “let’s all have a big tea party”; it’s a serious effort to give North Korea the incentives to renounce nuclear weapons in a verifiable manner. The difference with the Clinton deal is that it has measures for full inspection of its nuclear facilities.

You talk about Bush's plan;but there is no real Bush plan for dealing with North Korea. The only "plan" seems to be sit back and see if China can manage something. The Wheldon plan may or may not work but it's a whole lot better than what Bush is doing now.

Bushes Plan ? Invade Iraq !
Wow… the North Koreans were scared by that one. Especially 100K troops tied up in Iraq.

Now to constructive criticism… China sure should be having a bigger role in this… but even they are reluctant it seems. If you starve them into regime change you will kill a million north koreans without any guarantee of sucess.

Even if you do negotiate the end of nuclear programs… who will enforce it ? I doubt they will stop developing stuff… especially since nukes are the only guarantee against US invasion it seems.

First of all, the U.S. is not ‘sitting back’. The U.S. has been actively working with the Chinese to bring this about.

Why? Let’s hear your in-depth criticism of the idea of using the Chinese as a hammer to force concessions from the North Koreans? China can deal from a position of strength - the U.S. has no serious threat to offer, so it can only deal from a position of weakness - offering to give more and more goodies in exchange for not being threatened with missiles.

The problem with the Weldon proposal is that it’s a reward - the North Koreans build nukes, and as a result they get lots of goodies. This is an incentive for them to do it again. The Bush proposal is more along the lines of, “Build nukes, and you’ll be cut off from the world, from trade with your biggest neighbor, from access to energy, and you’ll freeze in the dark.” This acts as a DISincentive to build nukes again if they can get a concession now. Oh, the U.S. is willing to offer a non-aggression pact to give North Korea security, and AFTER the nukes are gone and they’ve shown that they can be good world citizens, other perks may follow.

But it’s important to show that brandishing nukes is a roadblock in the way of getting the goodies - not a way to get more of them.

What is wrong with the current strategy? I have already explained in previous threads:
1)First there is no evidence that China is willing to use its “hammer force” , such as it is, if it’s going to cause the collapse of North Korea.
2) By its “axis of evil” speech and subsequent threats the US has put itself right in the middle of the issue. A non-aggression pact from the US is now a crucial ingredient of any successful deal. And contrary to what you said the US hasn’t agreed to a non-agression pact even if the North Koreans give up nukes.
3) Most importantly there is no evidence the strategy is working. North Korea hasn’t relaxed its negotiating position. It’s crossed one “red line” after another. The more a deal is postponed the more it will be difficult to verify. The longer North Korea is allowed to build nukes the stronger its negotiating position becomes.

I hate to say this, as I know I’ll get flamed for it, but sometimes a ‘wait and see’ approach is a good strategy. Sometimes its not, but when one of the players has nukes, I think its certainly something to consider.

If NK is unwilling to ‘relax its negotiating position’ as you say, CyberPundit, then maybe the time isn’t ripe for negotiations with them. If China is unwilling to bring pressure to bare (I actually thought there WERE, but I’m most likely wrong) then, again, maybe this isn’t the time for negotiations. NK has us at an impass unfortunately. What would you have the US do exactly? Should we cave in ourselves and reward NK for breaking their treaties and doing what they’ve done? Whats to stop them from, 5 years down the road, doing it again?? Should we excersize a military option that will result in 10’s of thousand, 100’s of thousands, maybe millions of deaths? It would be a disaster, and if Bush did it, I’d be with the anti-war crowd shouting for his fucking head on a platter.

You say its not China’s problem…but I disagree. It IS China’s problem, at least as much as its the US’s problem. China has pretentions of being a major power…now is the time to prove that IMO. If they don’t want to deal with this, then maybe now is the time for the US to do what its doing…back off, build support in the region, try and get China and the other powers involved…wait and see. If NK drops the dime and nukes someone, then the jig is up, and their country will be turned into glass. They know it, and I don’t think (god I hope!!) that they aren’t that crazy. So, its a stalemate for now. I don’t like it any more than you do, but its reality. It would make me MORE nervous if the US were really rattling saber’s right now and escalating the situation.

The oppurtunity to REALLY do something about NK came and went long ago, before KjI got nukes IMO (if in fact there ever WAS an oppurtunity to do anything which I’m not convinced of). However, IF Clinton would or could have done something about it (or Bush’s daddy), he probably would have gotten the same bad rap as Bush is getting atm over Iraq.

Conversely if we speculate for a sec, if Bush hadn’t of done what he did in Iraq, and IF SH would have gotten nukes, we’d essentially be in the same boat with respect to Iraq as we are with NK today…it would simply be too dangerous to try and ‘take them out’. Not saying SH could or would have gotten nukes, or that its justification for what the US did, so please don’t blast me here…lets not open that can of worms, ok? Just saying, for arguements sake, that IF SH had of gotten them, it would be a very similar situation. Nukes change the equation, and these guys are well aware of that, IMO.

Even without the invasion of Iraq (re: RM’s comments), I don’t see much the US could do. I just don’t think the military option is viable to be honest. Christ man, Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Tiawan, etc are all in range. Take out any of those targets and it would be an unbelievable cost both in terms of human life and money. Such a war might cause the world economy to tank, making Iraq look like a sunday stroll in comparison. And if the military option is pretty much out, that leaves…basically what we are doing atm.


Yeah, what he said.

This situation stands in stark contrast to the success the Europeans have had with their policy of intense diplomatic discussions with Iran.

Iran signs protocol on snap UN nuclear inspections

Perhaps this is a case where the US could learn something from the French.

You may be correct, Squink. Then again, perhaps Iran does NOT have a fully working nuke left, and they are a bit nervous about a tiger in their back yard so to speak…a tiger who has already attacked and killed off a neighbor for less cause. And perhaps they (rightfully) see the EU as a haven, if they play along. Were I in THEIR position, I would run, not walk, to sign whatever I had to with the EU to show what a good boy I was.

Also, I don’t really think there is much comparison between Iran and NK. Granted I’ve never been to NK, but I have been to Iran…and I don’t think they are any where near as insane as the NK’s are. I think, generally speaking, the Iranians have been moving back to rejoining the world for some time now (certainly the Iranians I’ve spoken too seem to be saying that), as well as moving back to more normalized relationships with the US. NK has not, afaik.


Damn it…thats fully working nuke YET, not left. Sigh.


Sure sometimes a wait-and-see approach is best but this is not one of those times. For one thing the US is trying to change an unacceptable status-quo ie. where North Korea likely posseses nuclear weapons. The longer the status quo is maintained the harder it becomes to reverse and the stronger North Korea’s bargaining positions becomes. As mentioned above an election year isn’t the best time to carry out a high-stakes negotiation with the North Koreans. 2003 was the best opportunity and the Bush administration has let it slip by.

I never said it isn’t China’s problem; just that it’s a vital national security issue for the US which it can’t afford to pass on to the Chinese. There is nothing wrong with trying to reach a unified negotiating position between the various regional powers to reduce North Korea’s bargaining power ; indeed one of the problems with the Bush administration has been the clumsy handling of crucial relationships in the region especially with the South Koreans. However the US needs to develop a serious negotiating strategy ; the Wheldon plan is one such possibility but the administration doesn’t have anything comparable to offer. The Wheldon plan is not some kind of craven give-away; on the contrary it puts stiffer requirements on the North Koreans than they have accepted in the past.

The bottom line is that the current strategy is failing and the US needs to think of something better or the situation will truly go beyond the point of no return with disastrous consequences for the US and the world.

This turned into a long ass post…my appologies. I’m also half drunk, so if parts of this don’t make much sense (or drop into spanish…I THINK I cleaned all that out, but might have missed some) blame it on the whiskey. :slight_smile:

I guess I just don’t see it. Why does something have to be done NOW?? NK isn’t going anywhere. Afaik, China hasn’t fully engaged the problem or offered anything substantial as far as curbing North Korea on this…why? Until they are ready to really do this thing, to make substantive proposals and back them up with their own money and military, I just don’t see why the US has to push the issue. Whats the rush??

Unless you are saying that KjI and his merry men are going to sell off nukes to terrorist groups (I thought that was a conservative nightmare), I don’t see that there IS any rush. I think its unlikely he’d sell them to terrorists because they could be easily traced back back to NK…and that would be a Bad Thing, which even Kimmy boy must realize. All nukes have a ‘signature’, and they can tell where they came from basically (from what I understand).

So, if that possibility is remote (my assumption)…whats the rush? Its not like he can DO anything with them after all…except initiate a war that will ultimately lead to the total destruction of NK.

I would say its more of a vital concern to China than the US…after all, its in their back yard. Literally, as they share a boarder. Any bad shit that happens to NK (like all of their cities going up in flames because Kimmy fucked up) is going to float right across the boarder into China. That MAKES it of vital interest to the Chinese, much more so than it does America. I’m not saying its not vital interest to the US, as we have allies there and economic interests…but like I said, I would think China would have both more at stake and better means to deal with the problem, as NK is in THEIR circle of influence.

Wanted to talk about the plan in your cite some. I’ll give my own first impressions, maybe you could give yours. These are ONLY my first impressions though. Maybe others could chime in on what they think of them as well.
From Congressman Weldon’s Korea Peace Initiative

  1. This doesn’t sound unreasonable to me. IMO, the US basically loses nothing in this, as afaik we have no intention of attacking NK anyway. There would have to be a proviso that if NK broke any of the treaties or what have you, the treaty we signed would be null and void (I’ll address this issue a bit later).

  2. Afaik, the NK ALREADY had such a treaty in place…and reneged on it. Might not have been exactly the same, but it was very similar. And they basically decided to throw out the inspectors and restart their programs anyway when it suited them. Whats to stop them from doing the same again? This is one of the weaknesses of this plan afaiac, because it doesn’t specify what happens to NK if they do what they did before.

  3. Same. They ALREADY signed the treaty, and reneged on it. Whats to prevent them from doing so again? I see another cluster fuck like Iraq on the horizon, with periods of inspections, periods of government interference, followed by tossing the inspectors out again, restarting programs, and blackmailing for more money, and no one willing to do anything…or if they do, with the world basically going ape shit like they are doing over Iraq.

Will the UN ratify an iron clad resolution that if NK steps off the line again, the hammer falles? If they will, then by all means, I’m all for it…lets try this plan out. If not…well, are we supposed to go on the good will of KjI and his merry men??

  1. We’d be buying them off…again. I don’t have a serious problem with that, IF it will actually work this time and we can put checks in place to make sure they do, though I do wonder why it has to be the US that buys them off…why not China also? Its THEIR problem too, after all…they live there. Are they gona foot part of the bill for this?? And maybe SK and Japan too? They are all much more seriously effected by all this than we are, no? Maybe I missed that part in the proposal, and if so I appologize…but this seemed to me to be fairly unilateral with the US doing everything. If I got it wrong, sorry…I only spent a few minutes going over the thing.

  2. Not a problem IMO…its about time to bury these kinds of things into the dustbin of history IMO…but only IF these countries (like NK, Cuba, etc) are willing to make some real concessions as marks of their good will and willingness to work and play nice from here on out.

In step B, again, there is nothing iron clad to make sure NK stays on the straight and narrow IMO. Again, if the UN wants to create an iron clad resolution that REQUIRES member states to initiate hostilities with NK if they decide to toss out inspectors or the various treaties they are signing, I’m all for it. At a guess, Bush would jump on that too. If not, I fail to see how this is different than last time. We were GIVING them money under Clinton. They SIGNED both treaties already. And even though they knew the money trough would be cut off, they toss out the inspectors and restarted their nuke programs anyway.

Personally, I would guess the NK would go for Weldon’s plan in a heartbeat…no doubt about it. They get everything they want, and don’t really have to give anything up. When they get tired (again) and want to rattle our cage (and maybe get a bigger money trough) they can simply go back to their tried and true strategy…toss out the inspectors, restart the reactors and the weapons programs, and practice having a crazy look in their eye, maybe a bit of foam at the mouth…keep em guessing.

By the same token, I seriously doubt they would go for something with real teeth in it, like what I’m saying. You think they would sign up if they KNEW that if they fucked up again, the wrath of the US and the world would fall on them? No chance IMO.

I still think that in this situation, there is no rush…just like there wasn’t any rush in Iraq. I don’t see the current stategy as ‘failing’ at all…I merely see us at an impass atm. The US would be better served to just let it lie for now (IMO), and I’m actually kind of happy Bush, for once, isn’t pushing this thing. I think we need to work with China and get them to fully engage on the problem. Same with South Korea and Japan. Listen to what THEY want to do, and how THEY want to play this thing…and what they are willing to do to help. What proposals are THEY coming up with?? Why does the US have to do it all, when NK isn’t one of OUR neighbors??


“I think its unlikely he’d sell them to terrorists because they could be easily traced back back to NK…”
This is an extremely dubious assumption. Why do you think they will be so easily traced? The other thing that North Korea could do is transfer weapons grade uranium or plutonium to other countries like Iran. Finally a nuclear North Korea could cause other countries in the region to re-think their situation and acquire nukes. I have already given other reasons why waiting is problematic.

As for North Korea reneging on its treaty obligations that would result in the promised benefits being cut off and probably the non-aggression pact being rendered null. There is no guarantee that they will not cheat but at least they will have strong incentives. Also it’s important to note that while North Korea did attempt to make uranium-based weapons they did mothball their plutonium-based Yongbyon facilities till very recently. If Clinton hadn’t made a deal with them they would probably have dozens of nuclear weapons instread of 1 or 2. An imperfect deal is still better than nothing.

The bottom line is that your strategy is basically doing nothing and allowing North Korea to keep its nukes and keep making more. That is pretty much a guaranteed disaster. Wheldon’s plan at least has a possibility of success.

If you have been to Iran and have seen the way the government work, then it should be abundantly clear that Iran is well on its way to creating a proper transport device for the couple nukes they do have. Notice how they deny the existence of a Shahab-4 or even Shahab-5.

Iranians are known to be quite good at politics (thanks to the UK and 6000 years of political manoeuvring). If you see a shifty serpent-like Mullah say he has a weapon, then you can rest assured that they are merely rattling the proverbial sabre.

On the other hand, if you see a Mullah act cool, collected and deny that they have (and better yet, need) nuclear weapons, then you are guaranteed that there is at least one somewhere in Yazd. If you familiar with the Mullah’s “50-year plan,” then you know that everything is falling into place. Many of Iran’s enemies are falling at the feet of the ‘Great Satan’. Taliban, gone. Saddam, gone. Saudi, in disarray. Israel, bankrupt. Iran’s economy is booming and the population is growing at an exponential rate. Foreign investment (and Caspian sea reserves are going to keep growing). The relatively well-educated urban population and cheap countryside manufacturing labour is also key.

Anyhow, these are some things to think about and research, if you are interested.