Sunday, December 29, 2002

So, let me get this straight.

Iraq appears, for the moment, to be cooperating with the international inspections regime. They may have some lingering WMD capability, but with regard to nukes, at least, the most worrisome WMD, they are almost certainly years away from having a nuclear capability, due to lack of fissile material. The United States is threatening war at the first slip-up.

North Korea has kicked out their own inspectors, and activated plutonium reprocessing facilities which have no clear purpose other than bomb production. They probably already have material for a bomb or two on hand, and if they are allowed to restart the production line, they'll have material for another half-dozen within months, and a more slowly, but still steadily growing stockpile after that. Dubya's suggested approach? Economic sanctions.

The administration thinks that Korea will respond if it is threatened with economic collapse. (They don't make clear how they think economic collapse would differ from the current situation, in which many North Koreans are trying to subsist on eating grass and acorns).

As is often the case, the most interesting bits of the Times analysis of this sanctions package are buried at the bottom. For one thing, a sanctions regime requires multilateral cooperation, or it's hosed from the start, as the North Koreans will just trade elsewhere. Which means this sanctions policy is hosed from the start:

China, American officials acknowledge, has not pressed the North Koreans as hard as Washington would like and is unlikely to support economic sanctions. South Korea's new president, for his part, has come to office on a platform that called for increased interaction with North Korea, not the increased its isolation.

As to why the North Koreans are holding their plutonium party now:

"I think the Bush administration's tough rhetoric and tough policies toward North Korea have unnerved the North Koreans and perhaps led them to conclude that the only way for them to ensure security is to confront the world with a fait accompli by rapidly acquiring a substantial nuclear arsenal," Mr. Einhorn said.

In other words, Dubya's tough talk about possible conflict --- including breaking off ongoing negotiations with the North Koreans as he entered office, for no apparent reason --- may well have been a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If this is what mature, professional foreign policy looks like, let's bring back the amateurs.


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