FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Hexagonal Headache

It is a testament to the absurdly low expectations attached to the diplomatic abilities of both North Korea and the United States that pundits have avoided the obvious conclusion concerning the recently concluded Six-Party Talks in Beijing.

They were a disaster.

Here’s the rub, though: the hardliners in Washington got exactly what they wanted and may get hoisted by their own hubris as a result.

The two indicators frequently cited as evidence that the talks went smoothly are: none of the six delegations stormed out of the meeting hall and all sides agreed to meet again within two months. For a brief moment the day after the delegates went home, North Korea told the truth about the talks–that they were a failed effort and probably a waste of time–before returning to a more open-ended pledge to continue participating. Without any sign of compromise from Washington, though, North Korea is pushing forward with its nuclear program along with the threat to test a nuclear weapon.

Hardliners such as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the State Department’s John Bolton are probably greeting this result with little jigs of exultation. Pyongyang couldn’t have followed their script any better. Its skepticism concerning future talks has made North Korea look militantly ham-fisted. Russia and China are ever more frustrated with their erstwhile ally. And a nuclear test, should North Korea be so technologically equipped or politically stupid to hold one, would be the checkered flag to signal the final lap toward regime change.

The hardliners in Washington have made no secret of their distaste for negotiations with North Korea and so contrived to ensure that the Six Party talks would fail. For instance, they made sure that the talks would not involve any negotiations. Negotiations require give and take, and despite rumors floated in the press about potential flexibility on a non-aggression pact or a package of economic incentives, there was no wiggle room in the U.S. position in Beijing.

This uncompromising stance is all the more remarkable given that both sides are talking about roughly the same elements of a deal–ending North Korea’s nuclear program in exchange for various economic, political, and security guarantees. The chief disagreement, at least on the surface, concerns sequence. In other words, should North Korea freeze its program first or should the United States offer security guarantees first? That the two sides couldn’t begin to address the issue of sequence in Beijing suggests that the talking cure is not fully subscribed to by either side.

The Six Party Talks were flawed as well because the particular multilateral format only encouraged North Korea’s infamous “cornered badger” behavior. Outnumbered five to one over the validity of its nuclear program, North Korea couldn’t effectively marshal what remains of comradely feeling in China and Russia. Nor could it exploit the obvious fact that the United States can only count on limited support from one country in the region (Japan) for a more aggressive solution to the stand-off. The informal discussions, particularly between the U.S. and North Korea, were scant. The formality of the presentations precluded much in the way of creative thinking (for example, a joint economic deal from Russia and South Korea) or creative pressure (on either North Korea or the United States to be more flexible).

China’s role as convener of the talks was, of course, a plus. However, it has come up against a stubborn law of diplomacy: you can bring six parties to the table, but you can’t force them to compromise. This was the primary flaw of the meeting. Hardliners on both sides have been, at some level, happy to pursue “talks without negotiations.” North Korea wants more time to develop its nuclear program. The United States wants more time to see if the government in Pyongyang will collapse. To move from talks to negotiations, both sides will have to be pressured into more flexible positions.

North Korea’s reputation in the world these days is not exactly sterling. The Bush administration wanted, through the Six Party Talks, to isolate the country further by demonstrating that it can’t play well with five others. To do so, however, the U.S. delegation had to act just as uncompromisingly. This lack of diplomacy prompted China to declare after the talks that U.S. policy was a “main problem,” a sign that the hardliners in Washington may well have overreached themselves. If another round of talks do take place within the next two months, the hardliners might not be able to pull of a repeat performance.

The flaws in the structure and outcome of the Six Party Talks should not lead to the conclusion that engagement and diplomacy are failed options. Neither side has yet pursued engagement, not since relations took a turn for the worse when George W. Bush assumed office. Rather, responsibility for the hexagonal headache in Beijing should be attributed to the failures of non-engagement. Diplomacy is still the best method of resolving the current crisis. We just haven’t seen any of it yet.

JOHN FEFFER, editor of PowerTrip: U.S. Unilateralism and Global Strategy After September 11,, writes regularly for Foreign Policy in Focus. He is the author of the forthcoming North Korea, South Korea: U.S. Policy at a Time of Crisis (Seven Stories Press).

 

More articles by:

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus, where this article originally appeared.

March 19, 2019
Jimmy Centeno
Venezuela Beneath the Skin of Imperialism
Jeffrey Sommers – Christopher Fons
Scott Walker’s Failure, Progressive Wisconsin’s Win: Milwaukee’s 2020 Democratic Party Convention
Steve Early
Time for Change at NewsGuild?
March 18, 2019
Scott Poynting
Terrorism Has No Religion
Ipek S. Burnett
Black Lives on Trial
John Feffer
The World’s Most Dangerous Divide
Paul Cochrane
On the Ground in Venezuela vs. the Media Spectacle
Dean Baker
The Fed and the 3.8 Percent Unemployment Rate
Thomas Knapp
Social Media Companies “Struggle” to Help Censors Keep us in the Dark
Binoy Kampmark
Death in New Zealand: The Christchurch Shootings
Mark Weisbrot
The Reality Behind Trump’s Venezuela Regime Change Coalition
Weekend Edition
March 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
Is Ilhan Omar Wrong…About Anything?
Kenn Orphan
Grieving in the Anthropocene
Jeffrey Kaye
On the Death of Guantanamo Detainee 10028
Stan Cox – Paul Cox
In Salinas, Puerto Rico, Vulnerable Americans Are Still Trapped in the Ruins Left by Hurricane Maria
Ben Debney
Christchurch, the White Victim Complex and Savage Capitalism
Eric Draitser
Did Dallas Police and Local Media Collude to Cover Up Terrorist Threats against Journalist Barrett Brown?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Straighten Up and Fly Right
Jack Rasmus
Trump’s $34 Trillion Deficit and Debt Bomb
David Rosen
America’s Puppet: Meet Juan Guaidó
Jason Hirthler
Annexing the Stars: Walcott, Rhodes, and Venezuela
Samantha M. - Angelica Perkins
Our Green New Deal
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s Nightmare Budget
Steven Colatrella
The 18th Brumaire of Just About Everybody: the Rise of Authoritarian Strongmen and How to Prevent and Reverse It
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Riding the Wild Bull of Nuclear Power
Michael K. Smith
Thirty Years Gone: Remembering “Cactus Ed”
Dean Baker
In Praise of Budget Deficits
Howard Lisnoff
Want Your Kids to Make it Big in the World of Elite Education in the U.S.?
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Foreign Policy is Based on Confrontation and Malevolence
John W. Whitehead
Pity the Nation: War Spending is Bankrupting America
Priti Gulati Cox
“Maria! Maria! It Was Maria That Destroyed Us!” The Human Story
Missy Comley Beattie
On Our Knees
Mike Garrity – Carole King
A Landscape Lewis and Clark Would Recognize is Under Threat
Robert Fantina
The Media-Created Front Runners
Tom Clifford
Bloody Sunday and the Charging of Soldier F
Ron Jacobs
All the Livelong Day      
Christopher Brauchli
Banking, Wells Fargo-Style
Jeff Mackler
After Week-Long Strike, Oakland Teachers’ Contract Falls Short
Chuck Collins
Bring Back Eisenhower Socialism!
Binoy Kampmark
Grounding Boeing
James Munson
Why Are We Still Sycophants?
Jill Richardson
Politicians Are Finally Catching Up on Marijuana
Warren Alan Tidwell
Disasters Don’t Discriminate, But Disaster Recovery Does
Robert Koehler
Artifial Morality
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Goodenough Island in MacArthur’s Wake
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail