The Obama administration has announced a new nuclear agreement with North Korea under its new supreme leader, Kim Jong-un. The administration says that North Korea has agreed to a moratorium on nuclear-weapons and missile-delivery activities at Yongbyon, one of North Korea’s known nuclear-weapons-related facilities, in exchange for the U.S. agreeing to provide food aid. The announced bargain is worse than bad.
Wholly apart from the fact that North Korea has dishonored each and every non-proliferation agreement it has made over the years and can be expected not to comply with this agreement as well, its promise to suspend already-illegal activities in one location leaves it completely free to continue them elsewhere. Making a single-site moratorium on North Korea’s nuclear misconduct the central feature of an agreement is astonishingly foolish, even for an administration like President Obama’s that is naturally supine in foreign affairs.
The administration’s characterization of North Korea’s end of the announced bargain as demonstrating North Korea’s “commitment to denuclearization” is an insult to the intelligence of even a person with casual knowledge of North Korea’s dispersed nuclear-weapons and missile programs. Can it be that the administration heralds the bargain because this feature will allow it to claim victory even if the same North Korean illegal and dangerous activities continue elsewhere on the peninsula? Is the administration’s desire to declare a foreign-policy success so great as to be that myopic? One can imagine President Obama in such circumstances declaring that the agreement was “a good start.”
The U.S. promise to supply North Korea with 240,000 metric tons of food aid as part of the bargain also is more than suspect. Wholly apart from whether North Korea needs food aid — it would be able to buy food on the world market if it redirected the money it uses for its national nuclear-weapons and missile programs — virtually all international food aid it previously has received has been diverted from the intended beneficiaries to the purposes of the North Korean elites and military. The intended beneficiaries are North Korean people who are in need of food, the portion of the population the supreme leader (and his father and grandfather before him) categorizes under the North Korean songbun system as politically disloyal and thereby not worthy of being provided with food and other necessaries. Given that the U.S. announced its promise of the food aid without details, it probably is too much to hope that the details will address this — details about what is to be distributed and how distribution is to be monitored so that intended beneficiaries actually receive and are allowed to use the aid.
It is naïve at best for the administration to herald a North Korean “commitment to denuclearization” after the many years of North Korean actions definitively proving the contrary. In light of the mountains of evidence to the contrary that the Kim family regime has given over the years, it is especially foolish for the administration to have reaffirmed that the U.S. has no hostile intent toward Pyongyang.
The U.S. declaration of policy regarding North Korea should be that it will do all it can, short of initiating a war against North Korea, to stave off the dangers the Kim family regime poses to and inflicts on the North Korean people, North Korea’ s neighbors, and the victims of proliferation.
— Jack David is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. He was deputy assistant secretary of defense for combating weapons of mass destruction and negotiations policy from 2004 to 2006.