Engage the Axis of Evil

Discussion in 'Middle East - General' started by -Cp, Aug 4, 2006.

  1. -Cp

    -Cp Senior Member

    Sep 23, 2004
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    Incredibly, President George W. Bush has proved to be prophetic. Almost a half decade ago, he predicted that Iraq, Iran, and North Korea would “threaten the peace of the world.” Iraq may have turned out to “threaten” us in ways he did not predict, but Iran and North Korea have behaved with baleful predictability. Missiles have flown in Asia and war flares in the Middle East, and good options are scarce.

    By many accounts, the United States has exhausted diplomatic and economic options with North Korea. Sanctions have impoverished the populace but show no sign of dislodging Kim Jong Il. In a Washington Post op-ed last month, Ashton B. Carter and William J. Perry recalled that six-party diplomacy had also “collapsed” and that, lacking better options, the United States should have declared its intent to “strike and destroy” North Korea’s long range missile before it could be launched.

    Carter and Perry also acknowledge, modestly, that there could be a third way. “Creative diplomacy,” they wrote without elaborating, “might have avoided the need to choose between [military strikes or doing nothing].” They seem to be describing the kind of creative diplomacy that Perry exercised successfully in 1999, but that the Bush administration has repeatedly rejected: bilateral dialogue.

    Many in the United States see direct talks with North Korea as a concession to a hated despot. Bush has referred to Kim Jong Il as a “pygmy,” a “tyrant,” and a “spoiled child.” According to a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, among others, prefer to isolate the regime in hopes that it will collapse.

    However, avoiding bilateral diplomacy ignores prodigious problems that exist uniquely between North Korea and the United States.

    The United States is still at war with North Korea; while fighting has ceased, no peace treaty was ever signed. Diplomatic relations have not been renewed, U.S. sanctions have been in place since the Korean War began, and every president since has renewed the national state of emergency instigated at that time. Many Americans have forgotten the Korean War, but its political legacy haunts efforts to deal with today’s problems.

    This legacy makes bilateral talks between North Korea and the United States a necessity, not a concession.

    North Korea has consistently shown particular concern over conflicts with the United States. In fact, such concern is one of the few common threads in all North Korean demands. The 1994 Agreed Framework (between the United States and North Korea to halt the North Korean nuclear program), for example, gave a high priority to normalizing “political and economic relations” and called on the United States to “provide formal assurance to the DPRK” that the United States would not threaten the use of nuclear weapons.

    Both countries failed to meet their agreements. While most sanctions were lifted, diplomatic relations were not normalized. The United States only provided an oblique security assurance to non-nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) signatories at the 1995 NPT Review Conference. It was not the bilateral guarantee the North Koreans were hoping for, and even this assurance has been undermined by the nuclear preemption doctrines contained in the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review.

    The suspension of bilateral talks has had direct consequences for North Korean actions. Political pundits on July 4 made much of North Korea’s “broken agreement” to stop testing missiles. In fact, that 1999 “agreement” was a unilateral statement conditioned on continued “high-level talks” with the United States, which have since ceased. The statement also called for the United States to stop “pursuing the policy hostile to the DPRK.” In 2003, North Korea again referred to “the U.S. vicious hostile policy” that “wrecks peace and security on the Korean Peninsula.”

    North Korea’s fear of the United States looms over its foreign policy. While that fear is often dismissed as posturing, its persistence suggests it is genuine. After visiting North Korea unofficially, Siegfried Hecker quoted a Korean official who told him “[w]e are concerned that the U.S. government will use what you conclude [as a pretext] to attack us.” The U.S. refusal to acknowledge this fear as a valid bilateral issue is counterproductive.

    Many of these problems stem from differing interpretations of each agreement. However, talking directly with hated regimes cannot harm the United States -- talks do not require concessions and, at worst, the administration will gain some time. Even that achievement with North Korea would be a coup, at this point.

    The axis of evil was aptly named, but, as kids everywhere quickly learn, we can achieve little by employing the silent treatment.


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