Tag Archives: North Korea

Olympic Threats, Bush's China Crutch, North Korea, and the Environment (U.S.–China Links)

Olympic threats: really dumb. China: Bush’s diplomatic savior? The North Korea deal: not what the White House hoped. And China meets the U.S. Congress to plan for a post-Bush climate reality. Recent China–U.S. relations news.

  • Steve Clemons agrees with me (OK, he agrees with James Fallows, whom I agree with) that “Boycotting the Olympics today or trying to preempt China’s hosting the games as Perle suggested in 2001 are hollow threats that perpetuate the mistaken notion that America is in a serious position to isolate China.” Clemons’ post today on China and his comments in the item below are worth attention.
  • In a New York Times Week In Review piece today Steven Lee Meyers argues that George W. Bush is using China’s influence in Iran, North Korea, and Burma as a “diplomatic crutch”—that having spent much of his country’s international political capital, Bush is lucky to have China to turn to. Myers quotes U.S Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill as saying “China has become the first stop for any American diplomacy.”
  • Not that the result in North Korea has been exactly what the Bush administration was hoping for, writes Richard Bernstein.
  • I’m a bit late posting this, but Der Speigel reported a “secret” meeting between members of the U.S. Congress and Chinese National Development Reform Commission (NDRC) Deputy Chief Xie Zhenhue. The White House was reportedly left out of this meeting addressing post-Bush administration environmental policy. According to Speigel:

    High-ranking sources close to the participants of the meeting between the Chinese delgation and Congress said the Chinese sought to find out how determined Congress is to push through rigorous climate protection laws in the future. During the discussion, members of Congress made clear that they would soon like to vote on legislation that would set binding emissions limits. However, the members of Congress said they didn’t provide the Chinese with a firm timeline for when this might happen.

McCain on N. Korea, Rearming Japan, and Taiwan (Oct. 2006)

In a Hannity & Colmes interview last year devoted mostly to attacking U.S. efforts to control North Korea under President Bill Clinton, Senator John McCain—now a leading Republican presidential candidate—said if the United Nations doesn’t do enough to control North Korea, Japan will have to “rearm.” And he said, puzzlingly, that something he refers to as “it” would be in China’s interest … referring to Taiwan! Here’s the quote, from October 11, 2006:

HANNITY: Senator, you know, just as we’re coming on the air here tonight, Japan is suspecting that North Korea, in fact, conducted a second nuclear test. And, as we think about this, what is the answer here? Is the answer that we worked through the United Nations or is a stronger answer that we rearm Japan, that we offer them some type of missile defense, and perhaps they even become nuclear-prepared?

MCCAIN: If the United Nations, because of China and Russia, do not invoke the strictest form of sanctions, that will affect our relations with both countries in a variety of ways. It is in China’s interest, not for any reason other than it’s not in China’s interest to see an escalation of tension on the Korean Peninsula.

Yes, the Japanese would have to rearm. The Japanese would have to acquire defensive weapons. What happens with Taiwan? The whole area could be in jeopardy of some kind of conflagration. That’s why it’s in China’s interest. [emphasis mine]

And, by the way, they control the food, and they control the oil that goes into North Korea. And they could exercise that if they want to.

So first the United Nations sanctions. But China has got to play a greater role. And they’ve been doing pretty well.

HANNITY: Rearming Japan, a resolution to defend Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, that would all be in the areas that you would suggest to the president at this particular point, remind the Chinese that, in fact, the Olympics are coming?

MCCAIN: Yes. And I would also make it clear to the Chinese that we’re not happy with some things, like the currency exchange. We’re not happy with their repression of democracy. We’re not happy with their failure to progress recently on a path to a free and open society.

And we will continue our steadfast belief that Taiwan will only be reunited to China if it’s done in a peaceful manner and the people of Taiwan desire to do so. Until then, we will protect them.

This second answer looks like an exercise in unloading predetermined China talking points. It strikes the usual ambiguous note on Taiwan.

But let’s take the bolded statement apart. He says Japan would have to “rearm” and “acquire defensive weapons,” when in fact Japan already has defensive weapons, and U.S. patriot missiles have been deployed in Okinawa since June 2006. Rearming could mean replacing current weapons with other, similar ones. More likely it means bringing Japan’s level of armament back to a higher, former level. Given McCain’s invocation of a possible regional “conflagration” that could involve Taiwan, we can only assume he means revising Article 9 of the Japanese constitution and giving Japan the right to engage in collective self defense.

It’s entirely unclear to me whether he means that rearming Japan would be in China’s interest or that a strong U.N. reaction to North Korea’s nuclear test is in its interest because anything less would lead to rearming Japan.

It would be nice to ask some follow-ups now that the North Korea situation has cooled off.

How Victor Cha Changed U.S. North Korea Policy

Victor D. Cha is a Georgetown professor who worked from late 2004 until this month as a U.S. National Security Council Asia specialist. From a May 1 Washington Post story called “NSC Post a Real-World Lesson for Cha“:

Cha, 45, will return to Georgetown this week, but his government service has had unusual impact, especially for an ivory-tower academic with no experience in policymaking.

He arrived at the White House with a reputation as an advocate for a tough approach to negotiations with North Korea — what he called “hawk engagement” — but in the end he drafted the crucial memo that helped persuade President Bush earlier this year to allow U.S. negotiators to meet for bilateral talks with their North Korean counterparts in Berlin.

The approach all but shattered the taboo on substantive bilateral negotiations that Bush had imposed since the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions erupted nearly five years ago. North Korea requested the meeting after refusing substantive talks at six-nation negotiations in December. (Pyongyang proposed Geneva as a venue, but that is where a Clinton-era agreement scorned by Bush was negotiated, so Berlin was chosen.)

(via Observing Japan’s post on the new NSC Asia staff)

U.S. to North Korea and Japan: 'Get Along!'

I think it’s a little odd that the United States would be telling another country that they should set aside their differences with North Korea, given, you know, the Axis of Evil and the six-party nuclear talks. But that’s exactly what U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey did today:

“We recognize and have said that there are many tough issues and emotional issues in the Japanese and North Korean part of this,” Casey said of the multilateral negotiating process launched by the February 13 denuclearization agreement.

“We certainly appreciate those difficulties, but do want to see them meet and move forward and work on resolving them,” he said.

A Progressive Response to North Korea

This piece originally appeared on CampusProgress.org. It outlines the argument set forth by Joe Cirincione, the head of national security and international policy at my day job—the Center for American Progress.

Ask the Expert: North Korea’s Nuclear Test

A progressive response to North Korea’s actions.

By Graham Webster
Thursday October 12, 2006

North Korea’s report of a nuclear test represents a failure of U.S. nonproliferation policy under President George W. Bush. Campus Progress recently interviewed Joe Cirincione, an expert in nuclear proliferation and senior vice president for national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. In a separate article on the American Progress website, Cirincione outlines a progressive response to North Korea’s actions. Here, based on additional discussion with Cirincione, are a few quick points and answers to common questions.

How big of a threat is North Korea?

North Korea’s missiles may possibly have the capacity to reach Alaska; they definitely can reach South Korea, China, and Japan, among other countries in the region. But the test of a nuclear explosive device, while a dangerous escalation of North Korea’s nuclear confrontation with the United States and other nations, isn’t a major escalation of the threat to the United States in military terms.

The device that exploded underground had a relatively small yield for a nuclear explosive, and it is likely too large to fit on a missile. North Korea could potentially offer a nuclear bomb to a terrorist group, but the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il knows that any attack—whether direct or through a terrorist supplied by his regime—would, in Cirincione’s words, produce a “swift, certain, and devastating” response by the United States.

How did it come to this?

A few days before North Korea’s claim of a test, Cirincione explained to Campus Progress how the world confronted nuclear proliferation since World War II, and how the Bush administration’s policy undid years of U.S. and international efforts:

“You know, for 50 years Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives have worked together to build this interlocking system of treaties and export control regimes and bilateral agreements that have slowed, if not altogether stopped the spread of these weapons. In 1960 President Kennedy was worried that if we didn’t do something, there would be 15, 20, or 25 countries. But we did something. We designed and implemented the Non-Proliferation Treaty. We put all these other arrangements in place. As result, there are only eight nuclear weapons states today, with possibly North Korea being the ninth. That’s nine too many, but it’s a lot better than 20 or 25.

“When the Bush administration came in, they rejected this whole approach. They wanted to replace negotiations with forced regime change. They said the problem isn’t the weapons, it’s bad guys with the weapons. So they were going to go off and knock-off the bad guys. Iraq was the first implementation of that strategy. It was supposed to be the beginning of a process of serial regime change. First Iraq, then Iran, and then we get to North Korea. That’s the way we settle the problem. It was okay for our friends to have nuclear weapons, like Israel, India, or Pakistan, but it’s not okay for our foes. Who was going to decide? We were. We would pick the good guys and let them have the weapons; we would punish the bad guys.

“The problem with that is obviously this is a very expensive and failed strategy. The mess we made in Iraq is just part of the problem. In the last five years Iran and North Korea have made more progress in their programs than they made in the last 10. This policy has actually accelerated proliferation. It’s convinced other countries that they better get nuclear weapons faster.”

OK, so the administration’s policy failed. We’re getting pretty used to that these days. What can the United States do from its weakened position to contain and roll back North Korea’s potential threat?

According to Cirincione, the United States should start at the U.N. Security Council with a strong condemnation and follow up with multilateral sanctions that hurt North Korea’s leadership and the country’s trade. Then U.S. diplomats should let newly-selected U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, who is himself from South Korea, mediate in the international response, as he has already offered to do.

If multilateral pressure doesn’t work, what can the United States do directly?

The United States can strike a deal with North Korea just like the one it made with Libya, which means dealing directly with the Kim regime. If you don’t remember the deal with Libya, the United States gave the country diplomatic recognition, security assurances, and economic incentives in exchange for the total elimination of Libya’s nuclear program. The policy was inexpensive, no one was killed, and it worked—more than we can say for the process of “disarming” Iraq.

What about North Korea’s neighbors? Is this going to create an arms race in the region?

The new Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who before taking office had been somewhat more hawkish than his predecessor, has already said that Japan will not develop nuclear weapons in response to North Korea’s actions. But in a different situation, Japan certainly has the capacity to arm itself.

Indeed, Cirincione told Campus Progress that Japan already has the fuel: ” Japan’s nuclear facilities are under close international inspection. But the problem is that they separated out from their spent fuel, coming out of their reactors, about 10,000 kilograms of plutonium. It takes about five kilograms of plutonium for one nuclear weapon. That’s 2,000 weapons.” Given a more robust threat, Abe could potentially change his mind, and South Korea and Taiwan could decide to seek nuclear capacity as well. It is this very compulsion to keep up with one’s nuclear neighbors that makes an international nonproliferation regime so important.