Thursday, January 7, 2016

On Whose Watch Did North Korea Develop Nuclear Weapons?

Let's all pull out our pretend surprise faces that Republican presidential candidates started blaming that two-headed monster - Obama/Clinton - for the fact that North Korea carried out another test of a nuclear bomb. For example, here's Marco Rubio:
If this test is confirmed, it will be just the latest example of the failed Obama-Clinton foreign policy. Our enemies around the world are taking advantage of Obama's weakness. We need new leadership that will stand up to people like Kim Jong-un and ensure our country has the capabilities necessary to keep America safe.
Jeb Bush:
Ted Cruz:
"This underscores the gravity of the threats we are facing right now, and also the sheer folly of the Obama-Clinton foreign policy," Cruz told reporters before a crowded meet-and-greet at the British-themed Union Jack's Grill..."It's worth remembering, we're here because of the Clinton administration. The Clinton administration led the world in relaxing sanctions against North Korea. They used the billions of dollars that flowed into North Korea to develop nuclear weapons.
For those of us in the reality-based community, an alternative would be to review the actual history of when/how/why North Korea developed a nuclear weapon. That is exactly what Fred Kaplan did in the May 2004 edition of the Washington Monthly.

The story starts back in 1994 when the Clinton administration learned that North Korea was preparing to move fuel rods from their storage site to a reprocessing facility, expel the international weapons inspectors, and withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In response, President Clinton took actions signaling that the United States was willing to go to war to keep the fuel rods under international control and set up diplomatic connections to end the crisis peacefully. North Korea backed down and an Agreed Framework was developed for further negotiations. Those were not completed by the end of Clinton's second term.

You might remember that it was in the fall of 2002 that we learned that North Korea had been acquiring centrifuges for enriching uranium since the late 1990s, most likely from Pakistan. As a result:
On Oct. 20, Bush announced that it was formally withdrawing from the 1994 Agreed Framework. It halted oil supplies to North Korea and urged other countries to cut off all economic relations with Pyongyang. The North Koreans, perhaps realizing that they had once again boxed themselves into a diplomatic corner, decided to replay the crisis of 1994: In late December, they expelled the international weapons inspectors, restarted the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, and unlocked the container holding the fuel rods.
Here is how Kaplan summarizes the Bush administration's handling the situation with North Korea:
The pattern of decision making that led to this debacle--as described to me in recent interviews with key former administration officials who participated in the events--will sound familiar to anyone who has watched Bush and his cabinet in action. It is a pattern of wishful thinking, blinding moral outrage, willful ignorance of foreign cultures, a naive faith in American triumphalism, a contempt for the messy compromises of diplomacy, and a knee-jerk refusal to do anything the way the Clinton administration did it.
You'll want to read the whole Kaplan article to get the specifics. But it is a thorough review of how the Bush administration talked tough but basically did nothing at a moment when North Korea's march towards nuclear weapons might have been stopped. Playing a large role in the lack of response was the fact that most of the administration's time and attention was being devoted to invading a country that actually didn't have weapons of mass destruction.

Of course this kind of thorough review is not for the faint at heart. In other words, it is way too historical for those who prefer the knee-jerk reaction of blaming the two-headed monster known as Obama/Clinton.

P.S. It is interesting to compare this Fred Kaplan article in the Washington Monthly to his more recent analysis of Obama's foreign policy.

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