In 2005, the president changed policy toward North Korea. After
years of withholding tribute and applying pressure, he switched to
accommodation. It has not worked. He should revitalize the alliance
with Japan and the new South Korean government, and return to a policy
The failure of the current policy was spelled
out by Jay Lefkowitz, a New York lawyer and former deputy assistant in
the Bush White House, and since 2005 the President's Envoy on Human
Rights in North Korea. In remarks at the American Enterprise Institute,
Mr. Lefkowitz suggested the six-party talks have failed and now North
Korea is merely awaiting the end of the Bush administration. He
deserves a medal for telling the truth.
For decades the Kim
dynasty that rules the North made trouble by assassinating enemies in
foreign lands, kidnapping Japanese citizens, launching missiles of
increasing range, selling missiles to countries in the Middle East,
maintaining a million-man army, and developing nuclear weapons. The
North's antics concern this country mainly because thousands of U.S.
troops are still in South Korea, but its behavior also should concern
the North's neighbors.
The communist regime in North Korea
was saved from elimination by the massive intervention of Chinese
troops in December 1950 and since then North Korea has depended on
China to sustain its failed economy. Thus, the six-party talks between
the United States, Japan, China, Russia, South Korea and North Korea
made sense. It was hoped that the five interested countries would join
to apply pressure on the North.
It did not work out that way.
China and the South Korean government of President Roh Moo-hyun
supported the talks but continued economic assistance to North Korea.
And Beijing wanted concessions from Washington, mainly for the United
States to oppose the independence movement on Taiwan. The United States
did not have an effective way to pressure North Korea. So in 2005, the
concessions began with bilateral talks with the North, meeting one of
Pyongyang's main demands.
State Department diplomacy achieved
little, but Treasury Department sanctions succeeded. The Treasury
accused North Korea of sponsoring international criminal activity,
froze its assets in the Banco Delta Asia in Macau, and put the North on
a blacklist that shut it out of the international banking system. This
hit the leadership in the pocketbook and the North refused to return to
the six-party talks until its money in Macau was released. Finally,
Washington had leverage over North Korea.
But instead of
pressuring the North to end its nuclear weapons program before getting
its money, the administration made a major mistake. It bowed to
Pyongyang's demand to release the frozen funds and remove the blacklist
in exchange for the North's promise to fully disclose its nuclear
activities and disable its nuclear facilities by the end of 2007.
Hill, the State Department's designated appeaser, worked hard to get
the frozen assets in Macau transferred to Pyongyang and to remove North
Korea from the Treasury's blacklist. All last year Mr. Hill kept saying
the North would meet an April deadline, and then a December deadline,
"to make a final declaration of their entire nuclear program."
Of course, North Korea met neither deadline and as Mr. Lefkowitz and
former Ambassador John Bolton have said, there is little chance it will
before the end of the Bush administration. Anticipating another Clinton
in the White House, Kim Jong-il looks forward to a visit from the first
husband, who was trying to schedule a trip to North Korea before he
President Bush changed policy on North Korea
when things were going badly in Iraq and he needed a victory. He was
not well-served by those who suggested he could find his legacy in
North Korea. But now there is a chance tomake amends. Tokyo has been
tougher than Washington on North Korea, and for the first time in eight
years a South Korean government is realistic about the North.
President-elect Lee Myung-bak, who will take office in February, will
strengthen the effort.
The following steps should be taken:
• Reinvigorate the alliance with South Korea and Japan.
• Suspend the six-party talks and stop all allied support for the North.
Improve and increase ground-based missile defenses in Alaska, Japan and
South Korea, and on U.S. and allied ships in the Pacific.
Use the Proliferation Security Initiative, which the new South Korean
government may join, to prevent North Korea from shipping missiles and
nuclear technology abroad.