Name-Calling or Nonproliferation?

By Kimball, Daryl G. | Arms Control Today, March 2002 | Go to article overview

Name-Calling or Nonproliferation?


Kimball, Daryl G., Arms Control Today


FOCUS

In a potent political one-liner delivered in January, President George W. Bush prominently labeled Iran, Iraq, and North Korea an "axis of evil" that is supporting terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. While the threat of terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction is real, the problems of terrorism and proliferation are not identical and cannot be addressed with a one-size-fits-all approach.

The president is to be commended for focusing attention on the ongoing threat of nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile proliferation in dangerous regions. But his gratuitous name-calling in the absence of practical, country-specific nonproliferation strategies has complicated the task of addressing proliferation problems, particularly in North Korea.

Bush's statement puts North Korea and Iran in the same category as Iraq and has raised concerns about military action against all three. Our friends and allies may eventually agree to collective military action to enforce Security Council mandates for UN weapons inspections in Iraq, but leaders in South Korea, Japan, and Europe correctly understand that the most effective approach to Pyongyang is resuming the North-South-U.S. dialogue.

While in Seoul for a February state visit, Bush had to clarify that the United States "has no intention of invading North Korea," and he reiterated his administration's willingness to talk "anytime, anywhere" with Pyongyang on a range of security issues. Yet, in the same speech, he repeated harsh recriminations that substantially undermine the possibility that the North will re-engage. The president's tough talk may play well in Washington's conservative political circles, but it has plunged the United States and North Korea into another cycle of mistrust and missed opportunity.

Rather than launching verbal jabs and waiting for the North to resume the security dialogue, the United States should take concrete steps on the most significant issues: averting a looming crisis on the implementation of the 1994 Agreed Framework to dismantle Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program and resuming negotiations on a verifiable freeze of the North's ballistic missile enterprise. To start, Bush should appoint a new, high-level coordinator for North Korea policy. The coordinator's first task would be to bring some practical ideas and proposals-not harsh recriminations-to the bargaining table.

The Agreed Framework is a good, but imperfect, deal that both parties must honor. Under the agreement, the United States is facilitating construction of two safeguarded light-water nuclear power reactors, and, in exchange, North Korea is to verifiably abandon its nuclear weapons program. …

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