Politics & Policy

North Korea Revisionism

How soon we forget.

Suddenly, with the stealthiness of man-made bio-warfare virus, there are signs of an ominous outbreak of revisionist history.

According to a surprising chorus of former Clinton-administration officials, legislators, and pundits, President Bush is responsible for the present crisis with North Korea over the latter’s nuclear-weapons program — not the weird, Stalinist ruler of Pyongyang, Kim Jong-Il.

For example, Senator Joseph Lieberman, a presumptive Democratic candidate for Mr. Bush’s job, wrote this week in the Washington Post:

…One of our most vital security interests is to keep North Korea from developing into a nuclear power. This was the impetus behind the Agreed Framework, negotiated in 1994 by the Clinton administration in close partnership with our Asian allies, which closed off the most likely and dangerous road to a nuclear North Korea: the development of weapons-grade plutonium. And, in fact, the North Koreans kept that central part of the 1994 agreement. The framework, in turn, opened doors to improved relations between the Koreas and even between the North and the United States.

According to a number of others who were authors or admirers of the “Agreed Framework,” the Bush administration spoiled everything by conducting a review of the Clinton legacy in this area and then, last year, by citing North Korea as a member of the “Axis of Evil.”

There are several things wrong with this line that suggest it is little more than a nakedly partisan effort to conceal the shortcomings of the Agreed Framework — and the reckless naïveté of those who trusted in it.

For one thing, by its own terms, the Agreed Framework was supposed to effect “an overall resolution of the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula.” Pursuant to its terms, both the U.S. and North Korea strove to “achieve peace and security on a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.” Pyongyang also pledged that it “will consistently take steps to implement the North-South Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”

What is more, President Clinton declared the day after the Agreed Framework was signed that: “This agreement will help to achieve a longstanding and vital American objective: an end to the threat of nuclear proliferation on the Korean peninsula.”

In short, the explicit purpose of this agreement was to prevent North Korea from pursuing nuclear weapons of any type, through any technique. If President Clinton and his negotiators had an expectation that the North was only prescribed from pursuing nuclear weapons via “the most likely and dangerous road,” but that it would be free and entitled to take other paths (for example, the uranium-based approach the Communists ultimately chose), the American people were not apprized of that view. To the contrary, they were led to believe exactly the opposite.

Then, there is the matter of the timing of the North Korean cheating on the Agreed Framework. U.S. intelligence believes that Kim Jong-Il started up his covert uranium weapons program sometime between 1998 and 2000. In other words, they began to violate the “object and purpose” of the accord as much as two years before President Bush came to office — and three years before his reference to the North’s standing as a member of “Axis of Evil.”

One would think that this inconvenient fact would make it difficult for President Bush’s political foes and other critics to blame him for causing North Korea to break out of the oh-so-promising Agreed Framework. The truth of the matter is that the evidence of Kim Jong-Il’s bad faith became so palpable on the Bush administration’s watch that it had little choice but to confront the North.

In fact, President Bush and his national-security team deserve credited for doing so. This is particularly true insofar as the all-too-common practice with these sorts of arms-control “processes” is for American diplomats and lawyers to respond to the other party’s noncompliant behavior with excuses and prevarications, lest public complaints complicate relations between the two sides. In this manner, agreements tend to be — as a practical matter — rewritten, to the advantage of the transgressor and to the detriment of the United States.

An honest debate is in order about what to do now that North Korea has admitted that it pursued nuclear weapons after promising, repeatedly, not to do so. Those who argue that the United States should enter negotiations with the North once again in the hope of securing yet another promise to forego such activities bear the burden not only of explaining why this is likely to work out any better than previous pledges. They must also be scrupulously honest about the historical record concerning those earlier, ominously fraudulent undertakings.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is the president of the Center for Security Policy and a contributing editor for NRO.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr.Frank Gaffney began his public-service career in the 1970s, working as an aide in the office of Democratic senator Henry M. Jackson, under Richard Perle. From August 1983 until November ...


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