Last week’s international agreement on North Korea, which calls on Pyongyang to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear plant by the end of this year, is being hailed as a victory for nuclear non-proliferation. In reality, it is a diplomatic concession to a brutal communist regime that has sought nuclear-weapons capability for nearly 50 years and that has repeatedly betrayed its past promises to disarm.
Consider North Korea’s historic behavior. In 1994, the Clinton administration launched its agreed framework with the intention of halting North Korea’s drive for nuclear weapons. America provided billions of dollars to begin construction of two light water nuclear reactors to provide electric power for North Korea. Encouraging our allies to do likewise, the United States also supplied North Korea with more food aid than any country in the world, while pouring fuel, medical supplies, and sometimes cash into the country. In return, America received a non-verified promise to abandon nuclear research.
It would prove a costly mistake. North Korea opened up the plutonium facility in Yongbyon to United Nations inspectors but immediately shifted production to a secret uranium enriching facility. The agreed framework collapsed.
Yet the current agreement treats this history as if it never happened. Once again, the UN will be invited to Yongbyon. Once again, America will provide billions of taxpayer dollars to prop up a criminal regime with a long record of human-rights violations. And once again, we can expect Kim Jong-Il to break the agreement and close off his country to inspection. It’s 1994 all over again.
How can one be sure that North Korea will continue to seek nuclear weapons? The reason is clear: nuclear bombs are the global equalizer. Recall that when China gained nuclear capability, Joseph Stalin gritted his teeth; the Soviet dictator knew that the Chinese would now be that much more difficult to intimidate and bully. Kim Jong-Il has learned the Chinese lesson well. Possessing a nuclear weapon, he knows, will transform a third-world backwater like North Korea into an international force to be reckoned with.
Kim Jong-Il also knows that the Bush administration is reluctant to enforce a tough line against North Korea. For example, a 2005 North Korea Human Rights Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush has been ignored by both the State Department and the administration. That law requires all negotiations with North Korea that deal with proliferation issues to also include a frank discussion of criminal activity and human rights-violations by North Korea.
No such discussion took place last week. Nothing was said of the hundreds of thousands of North Koreans who have fled to China, risking arrest, imprisonment, and forcible return to North Korea, in order to escape the world’s most oppressive regime. Similarly, there was no mention of the deprivation of food and basic medical supplies to the general populace, the North Korean regime’s version of ultimate population control. As for North Korea’s extensive gulag of prison and forced-labor camps, it went ignored by international diplomats.
Even issues that had generated previous controversy -- drug trafficking, counterfeiting, and money laundering by the regime -- were swept under the table. Missile sales to Syria and Iran did not merit a mention. Neither did the extensive research that North Korean scientists are conducting on germ warfare and nuclear development with Syria. Subjects that might cause embarrassment to either the North Koreans or their Chinese minders were deemed unsuitable for discussion. Instead, the latest agreement begins the process of removing the rogue state from the U.S. list of terrorism-supporting countries.
In the wake of last week’s agreement, some have suggested that a bad deal with the intractable North Koreans was better than no deal at all. That view is mistaken. Since revelations of the Nazi atrocities came to light after World War II, the world’s mantra has been “never again.” Yet we continue to allow unspeakable atrocities to take place while we respond with willful ignorance. The catastrophic agreement with North Korea is one more weight that will be upon our conscience and the conscience of future generations.