Last Thursday, Secretary of State Colin Powell tipped his mitt. In remarks at the Foreign Press Center in Washington, he revealed that the United States is willing, in the course of upcoming multilateral negotiations aimed at ending (again) North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, to join the other participants (South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia) in offering Pyongyang written security guarantees.
Secretary Powell made this opening sound pretty innocuous: “There should be ways to capture assurances to the North Koreans — from not only the United States, but we believe from other parties in the region — that there is no hostile intent among the parties that might be participating in such a discussion.”
Such “assurances” would be anything but innocuous, however. If this initiative comes to pass, it would amount to U.S. affirmation of the legitimacy of what is, arguably, the most odious government on the planet. Worse yet, it is predictable that this monumental concession will be accompanied by U.S. taxpayer-underwritten financial, food, trade, and perhaps technological assistance that will have the effect of perpetuating for the foreseeable future the world’s last, unabashedly Stalinist totalitarian regime.
It would be one thing if such appeasement would produce only further, assuredly empty promises on the part of North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programs. Unfortunately, it will utterly foreclose the one avenue that holds any prospect of actually ending that threat: regime change in Pyongyang.
As former CIA director R. James Woolsey and retired Air Force Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney wrote in a powerful op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal last week: “The only chance for a peaceful resolution of this crisis before North Korea moves clearly into the ranks of nuclear powers is for…a change in regime. Kim Jong Il’s regime has shown that agreements signed with it, by anyone, mean nothing.”
Messrs. Woolsey and McInerney argue that China alone has the ability to peacefully bring about such a regime change and recommend encouraging Beijing to use its considerable leverage with the North toward that end. Like most other analysts of the Sino-North Korean relationship, however, they think it unlikely — all other things being equal — that the PRC would do so since it has been solely responsible for keeping Kim Jong-Il in business for years. Until now, the Chinese have found it strategically valuable to have a wholly owned proxy play the bad boy in East Asia, often seeking and securing international rewards for exercising its influence usually in highly cosmetic ways.
The two former senior U.S. government officials correctly conclude that the sole hope for changing China’s perception of its interests lies with the United States and its allies being able — and willing — to use force to back up their professed refusal to “tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea.” They warn though that “The [Bush administration’s] reflexive rejection in the public debate of the use of force against North Korea has begun to undermine U.S. ability both to influence China to act and to take the preparatory steps necessary for effectiveness if force should be needed.”
The truth of the matter is that only by impressing upon the Chinese that their client regime is going to be changed — one way or the other — is there any chance that the new (government in Beijing will act to effect the sort of change in Pyongyang that will shut down the latter’s nuclear programs once and for all. Needless to say, such a change is also the one way that the long-suffering people enslaved by the Kim dynasty are likely to secure any of the myriad other social and economic improvements they so desperately need.
Nothing could be more counterproductive to such an effort than offering the North Koreans multilaterally endorsed security guarantees. Thereafter, neither China nor Kim Jong-Il would have reason to fear that regime change is in the offing. To the contrary, the combined effect of such guarantees and the substantial augmentation by deep-pocketed Western powers of Chinese life-support for Kim’s prison-state will eliminate any prospect of compliance on the part of Pyongyang.
Worse yet, the history of arms control in general and past dealings with serial treaty-buster North Korea in particular suggest a sorry prospect: When (not if) Pyongyang violates whatever obligations it assumes in the course of the new negotiations, the West will nonetheless feel constrained to honor its commitment, i.e., not to topple the north’s dictatorship.
In other words, Secretary Powell’s gambit will have exactly the opposite of the effect President Bush has made clear he intends — neither to allow North Korea to go nuclear nor to legitimate a despot he has made known he “loathes.” If the United States foregoes the right to work to terminate what Under Secretary of State John Bolton correctly described last week as the North Korean people’s “hellish nightmare,” we will not only be abdicating a moral responsibility as a nation that treasures freedom. We will also be ensuring that one of the most determined enemies of liberty, one that has publicly declared its intention not only to threaten us but to sell nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to others who share its anti-American sentiments, will shortly have the wherewithal to do both.
— Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is the president of the Center for Security Policy and a NRO contributing editor.