Monday, May 17, 2004

How 'moral clarity' got North Korea nuclear weapons... 

In a recent piece in the Washington Monthly, Fred Kaplan argues that while Iraq is a US foreign policy problem, the real problem may well be North Korea. The key here is that the North Korean problem (their probably possesion of nuclear weapons and willingness to use them as a diplomatic tool) was largely avoidable.

During the later part of the Clinton administration a package of dimplomatic concession and economic incentives convinced the North Koreans to keep spent fuel rods under lock and key (subject to international inspection) and abstain from any attempt to refine the fuel rods into weapons grade plutonium.

Kaplan argues that this all changed when the Bush administration entered office and that, within 18 months, all evidence suggests that Kim Jong-il now has enough weapons grade Plutonium to build several bombs...

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.

The key point, Kaplan contends, is that the Bush administration refused to negotiation with the North Koreans. In refusing (and indeed in refusing to uphold the parameters of the agreement signed by Clinton) the Bush administration made a tense and difficult situation much, much, much more difficult. It is reasonable to ask, then, why the administration refused to negotiate or, put another way, why, when we finally return to negotiating table do we want the North Koreans to have nuclear weapons?

...Bush had no desire to negotiate with North Korea over its nuclear weapons, much less its energy needs. To Bush and those who agreed with him, this refusal was a matter of principle. Pritchard recalls reading an NSC memo early on in the Bush administration, stating this no-negotiations policy explicitly. The rationale for the policy, according to the memo: to preserve "moral clarity."

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