America's Failed North Korea Nuclear Policy: A New Approach

Article excerpt

America's North Korea nuclear policy has been a failure. Instead of achieving its goal of preventing North Korea from possessing and proliferating nuclear weapons, it has had the opposite effect. This failure was a result of the George W. Bush administration's blanket rejection of the previous administration's approach to North Korea, the tendency to ignore the advice of experts, neoconservative influence on foreign policy, and divisions within the administration resulting in an inconsistent approach. This article suggests a bold new approach in which the United States offers North Korea full diplomatic recognition and a formal end to the Korean War as first steps toward the goals established in the 2007 Six Party Talks on North Korea, i.e., that North Korea give up its nuclear weapons and nuclear-weapons programs, and cease its proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Taking these moves as a starting point rather than a reward for compliance will deepen North Korea's commitment to nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation by removing its gravest external security threat-the United States.

Key words: U.S. foreign policy in East Asia, North Korea, nuclear weapons, multilateral security - East Asia

The Failure of U.S. Policy

There can be no denying that America's North Korea nuclear policy since 2000 has been a failure. U.S. policy goals regarding North Korea's nuclear programs have focused primarily on deterring North Korea from developing nuclear weapons, and preventing North Korea from proliferating technology, knowhow, or materials related to its nuclear program to other states. Yet since 2000, North Korea has withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), ejected international inspectors from its plutonium processing facilities and removed monitoring devices, and declared itself a nuclear-weapons club member by testing with marginal success a rudimentary nuclear device. It has shown itself not only willing to proliferate nuclear technology and materials, as well as the missile hardware and technology to potentially deliver them, but to have already done so to Iran, Pakistan, and Syria.1 In short, the administrations of both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have failed to deter North Korea from developing and testing nuclear weapons, and have failed to keep North Korea from proliferating nuclear weapons technology and materials to states of concern to the United States.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill's recent attempts via bilateral meetings within the Six Party Talks (6PT) to draw North Korea into a bilateral agreement with the United States have been admirable. Moreover, U.S. flexibility, shown in the 2007 agreement that has been reached with North Korea, and the October 2008 removal of North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, are goodfaith efforts on Washington's part, and are certainly moves in the right direction. Unfortunately, they are still too little, too late.

As has been the case with U.S. policy toward Cuba, the United States has preferred to isolate North Korea rather than pursue the path followed with China in the 1970s, i.e., recognizing and engaging constructively with it. Despite its imperfections today, China and Chinese foreign-policy behavior have changed remarkably since the change in U.S. policy toward it. This is not true of Cuba, however, nor is it true of North Korea, which begs the question, why doesn't the United States try something truly novel in its dealings with North Korea? In this sense, today's U.S. policy makers have much to learn from Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, who exhibited fortitude and creativity in forging a radically new policy toward China in the early 1970s during the height of the Vietnam War and the cold war.

This article will first provide a brief overview of U.S. policy toward the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea) regarding the recent nuclear standoff and the 6PT. …