Wednesday, August 09, 2017
Josh Marshall, TPM, In almost every discussion of the North Korea situation, I try to remind everyone that North Korea made its nuclear break out under George W. Bush not under Bill Clinton and not under Barack Obama. A key part of that backstory is that over the course of the late 90s the US negotiated a series of agreements called the Agreed Framework which shuttered the North Koreans nuclear weapons program in exchange for a combination of commitments and aid. The Bush team argued that the agreement was appeasement' and that the US had caught the North Koreans cheating on the agreement during Bush's first term. The cheating argument has always struck me as questionable quite possibly true but questionable. But the bigger issue is this: Does any of this really matter today as more than affixing blame for a situation we have to grapple with today whoever is at fault? I would argue that it very much does. Here's why.
The Bush team didn't like the concept of the deal itself. Giving things to the North Koreans to get them to do things we wanted was rewarding misbehavior, appeasement'. The proper way to handle such a situation was to get them to fall in line by the threat of US power, which is to say US military power. The simple reality was that the Bush team didn't like the deal but had nothing to replace it with. The threat of force wasn't credible because of the costs of a military confrontation which the North Koreans were well aware of. So the US got to act tough (or rather feel tough) and not go in for appeasement' and the result was that North Korea became a nuclear power. Might they have become a nuclear power anyway? Maybe. But it seems very hard to argue that they would have gotten there as quickly as they did or would even be there today if the US had continued with the quite minor amounts of aid the Agreed Framework required.
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