Regarding the current crisis on the Korean peninsula, for some peculiarly odorous reason Nikki Haley’s “timeline” presentation a few days ago at the UN emergency security council session reminded me of a similar timeline presentation by Colin Powell in the run up to the illegal war against Iraq in 2003. One glaring glitch in her presentation was the complete omission of the Agreed Framework period during the 90s. I wonder why. Well, during the Agreed Framework time period of roughly eight years, the North Koreans possessed one or two atom bombs and did not add another to their arsenal. This is significant because it shows that as long as North Korea is at the negotiating table, it isn’t busy producing nuclear weapons. That observation is based on the historical record, and that’s why Haley completely ignored it – it just doesn’t fit in with her cherry-picked timeline narrative.
Haley also places all the blame for previous breakdowns of negotiations on North Korea, as if the U.S. shares no blame. However, the historical record that Haley neglected also reveals that just when the Clinton Administration was on the verge of a major historical breakthrough with North Korea, which would have led to the complete abandonment of its nuclear program and the establishment of a peace treaty with South Korea, it literally ran out of time. Instead, the Bush administration came into office, and everything began to fall apart. So, what happened? Well, for one thing, immediately the Bush administration started off with its bellicose rhetoric, threatening to pull out of the Agreed Framework and labeling North Korea as part of “the axis of evil.” Besides that, the U. S. never delivered on its promise of light water reactors for peaceful nuclear development. Okay, but weren’t the North Koreans also to blame for the breakdown? Yes, they were, for it was also discovered during this time that the North Koreans had been enriching uranium at a secret underground site, an apparent violation of the Agreed Framework. The Bush Administration became enraged, and the Agreed Framework started to fall apart, but what put the nail in the coffin was the Iraq invasion. There is good reason to believe that the strategy for regime change was thought to only work if the leader in question has no nukes: Saddam and Gaddafi denuclearized and look what happened to them. You can be sure that North Korea took notice. Once the US invaded Iraq, the Agreed Framework was pronounced dead in the water. It was dying before that, but that was the deadly blow.
I’m not really much of a Clinton fan, but credit should be given where credit is due. Clinton’s diplomacy was working, and they were at the verge of a historic breakthrough that would lead to a peace treaty. For this reason, I believe the Bush Administration missed a significant opportunity to broker a lasting deal with the DPRK. Part of the fault also lies with American domestic politics. Once the Republicans gained the House and Senate during the waning years of the Clinton presidency, they began accusing Clinton of “appeasement” in the Agreed Framework deal, and then when Bush assumed office, he was determined to destroy all the progress that Clinton had made. If Bush had taken a non-partisan approach and tried to build upon that progress and finish what had been started, the North Korean nuke program would have probably been eliminated and a permanent peace treaty would have been established on the Korean peninsula. However, that’s “woulda-coulda-shoulda” thinking; nevertheless, it’s worth remembering the Agreed Framework because it is the only shining moment in the history of North Korean relations, when there was at least a glimmer of hope that North Korea could begin its path to join the community of nations.
It was a blueprint for success that can still be used, if only it is followed through to the end, and the way to make a new start and get back to this blueprint is to heed the advice of the Russians and Chinese in their joint “double-freeze” proposal. In comparison to the US “more sanctions” approach, which has never worked, the Russian-Chinese freeze-freeze proposal seems to be a sensible approach to breaking this impasse and lowering tensions, which are higher now than at any time that I’ve ever seen them. This is a very dangerous situation where the slightest miscalculation or misinterpretation could cause events to quickly spiral out of control, and that would be a nightmare. To be honest, with Nikki Haley bristling that the mere thought of a way out of the impasse is “insulting,” the Russians and Chinese seem to be the only adults in the room. Rather than “insulting,” it’s a modest, sensible request to get the US to halt the war games on North Korea’s borders and for the DPRK to stop the missile launching and nuclear tests. There is no military solution to this crisis. War is not the answer. Get them to the table and start the negotiations, and regardless of how difficult the DPRK seems and how long it takes, at least they won’t be making and testing bombs and shooting off missiles.
Anyway, contrary to Nikki Haley’s ridiculous presentation, the fault for the breakdown of negotiations lies with both sides. It’s time to let all that go and move forward. The Russian-Chinese initiative could represent a good start in the right direction to perhaps revive the Agreed Framework or at least achieve something similar to it. The Trump Administration would be wise to listen to the advice of Jimmy Carter, who has probably had more success dealing with North Korea than anyone, when he says that all North Korea wants is a peace treaty to replace the 1953 ceasefire. If true, why is that such an awful thing? Wouldn’t it be worth it to at least try to give peace a chance?
Dennis Morgan is a Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in