FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Hexagonal Headache

by JOHN FEFFER

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.

February 22, 2018
Mark Schuller
Haiti’s Latest Indignity at the Hands of Dogooders, Oxfam’s Sex Scandal
Jeffrey Sommers
Bond Villain in the World Economy: Latvia’s Offshore Banking Sector
Mark Schuller
Haiti’s Latest Indignity at the Hands of Dogooders, Oxfam’s Sex Scandal
T.J. Coles
How the US Bullies North Korea, 1945-Present
Ipek S. Burnett
Rethinking Freedom in the Era of Mass Shootings
Manuel E. Yepe
Fire and Fury: More Than a Publishing Hit
Patrick Bobilin
Caught in a Trap: Being a Latino Democrat is Being in an Abusive Relationship
Laurel Krause
From Kent State to Parkland High: Will America Ever Learn?
Terry Simons
Congress and the AR-15: One NRA Stooge Too Many
George Wuerthner
Border Wall Delusions
Manuel García, Jr.
The Anthropocene’s Birthday, or the Birth-Year of Human-Accelerated Climate Change
Thomas Knapp
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Russiagate
February 21, 2018
Cecil Bothwell
Billy Graham and the Gospel of Fear
Ajamu Baraka
Venezuela: Revenge of the Mad-Dog Empire
Edward Hunt
Treating North Korea Rough
Binoy Kampmark
Meddling for Empire: the CIA Comes Clean
Ron Jacobs
Stamping Out Hunger
Ammar Kourany – Martha Myers
So, You Think You Are My Partner? International NGOs and National NGOs, Costs of Asymmetrical Relationships
Michael Welton
1980s: From Star Wars to the End of the Cold War
Judith Deutsch
Finkelstein on Gaza: Who or What Has a Right to Exist? 
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
War Preparations on Venezuela as Election Nears
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Military Realities
Steve Early
Refinery Safety Campaign Frays Blue-Green Alliance
Ali Mohsin
Muslims Face Increasing Discrimination, State Surveillance Under Trump
Julian Vigo
UK Mass Digital Surveillance Regime Ruled Illegal
Peter Crowley
Revisiting ‘Make America Great Again’
Andrew Stewart
Black Panther: Afrofuturism Gets a Superb Film, Marvel Grows Up and I Don’t Know How to Review It
CounterPunch News Service
A Call to Celebrate 2018 as the Year of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois by the Saturday Free School
February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail