The Magazine

Rogue State Rollback

ADVANCE COPY from the January 20, 2003 issue: Don't appease Pyongyang . . .

Jan 20, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 18 • By JOHN MCCAIN
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NORTH KOREA'S PURSUIT of a nuclear arsenal directly threatens the security of the American people, as well as our ability to shape the international order so as to strengthen the stability of Asia, defeat the global threat of terrorism, and enhance the security of the United States and our allies. Those who counsel a return to the status quo fail to grasp the danger of rewarding threats with retreat and concession. America's challenge in Asia is to compel North Korea's nuclear disarmament, protect ourselves and our allies from the insecurity caused by the nuclear ambitions and nature of North Korea's regime, and demonstrate to other rogue leaders that America will not be blackmailed into violating first principles of sound statecraft.

In 1994, faced with a similar challenge, the United States agreed to provide North Korea half a million tons of fuel oil annually and construct two civilian nuclear reactors in return for a freeze on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs. Many of us questioned how this could possibly serve our security interests. The agreement was frontloaded with benefits for North Korea, even allowing it to retain material to develop more nuclear weapons and advanced missiles that will soon be capable of striking the continental United States. In exchange, North Korea--a regime infamous for its deceit, hostility to the United States and its allies, and the megalomania of its ruler--provided a mere promise of future good faith.

Regrettably, the Clinton administration pursued a policy that was all carrot and no stick. It thus mistook for resolving the North Korean crisis what merely postponed its apogee. By granting North Korea the time and the means to improve its nuclear and missile capability, the agreement made America and our allies less, not more, secure. North Korea began a secret uranium enrichment program after 1995. Pyongyang now flaunts the failure of U.S. policy by trumpeting its nuclear progress and seeking to extort even more concessions.

We clearly enjoyed a false peace from 1994 to 2002. There can be no going back. In the face of North Korea's nuclear provocation, a return to the failed policies of the past is unacceptable. North Korea itself has declared the Agreed Framework dead and withdrawn from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

North Korea's actions are driven by its expectation, which we have nurtured, that a policy of extortion through threat of attack will once again compel us to appease the regime of Kim Jong Il. But this would only instruct other rogue states in the benefits of threatening America. Proliferation would flourish. Those nations with the greatest interest in North Korea's denuclearization do not seem to have grasped the threat a nuclear North Korea poses to their interests.

Beijing should see that a nuclear standoff in Asia threatens the stability on which China's economic growth depends. Japan, understandably, will be under enormous pressure to deploy nuclear weapons absent North Korean disarmament, setting off a proliferation race in Asia with serious consequences for China's ambitions. And the Chinese would surely want to avoid an American military occupation of North Korea in the event of war with Pyongyang, or the possibility that Taiwan might seek nuclear weapons in response to regional proliferation.

The views of our South Korean ally are important. But South Korean policy today seems motivated more by fear than by logic. Policies that sustain Kim Jong Il's regime do not serve the long-term interests of the Korean people. Instead, they immorally prolong the suffering of North Koreans. The dream of reunification held by most Koreans, and the desire of many for a reduction in the U.S. military presence, are not served by policies that extend the reign of the North Korean dictatorship.

North Korea is the world's greatest rogue arms merchant. Failure to disarm Pyongyang will encourage grave challenges to our security elsewhere, as the North peddles its wares to other rogue states and terrorists. We cannot countenance a global order in which nuclear technology available to the highest bidder reorders world affairs in favor of our enemies.

Regrettably, the debate over the Korean crisis has been limited to arguments over whether the Bush administration's rhetoric and initial skepticism about North Korea's good faith provoked it, when it is plain that the flaws in the 1994 agreement, and the Clinton administration's ensuing diplomacy, as well as the nature of the North Korean regime, led inevitably to the current dangerous state of affairs. Yet, the Bush administration must accept part of the blame. By indulging in the same wishful thinking and finger-crossing as its predecessor, it has allowed this false debate to supplant a more honest and corrective appraisal.