Will President Bush replicate one of Bill Clinton’s worst foreign-policy failures?
The administration said last week that it will contemplate sending aid to North Korea before the nation has dismantled its nuclear program. At the end of this path is potentially the kind of deal Clinton cut, with Pyongyang gobbling up international goodies while, one way or the other, maintaining its weapons programs.
This approach will be celebrated by Bush’s critics. It will allow them to bellow a delicious “told you so” about Clinton’s Agreed Framework of 1994, casting it as the only realistic answer to the crisis, embraced by even the reluctant Bushies.
But there is another way in North Korea. A bipartisan coalition of conservatives, liberals, Christians, Korean Americans, and human-rights activists — led by Sen. Sam Brownback, a Republican from Kansas — is rising to promote an entirely different approach based on the premise that there can be no peace and security on the Korean peninsula without the collapse of the current regime in Pyongyang. The coalition’s weapon in the struggle with the North is one of the most powerful the United States has — the promise of freedom — and it plans to wield it forcefully.
This will be considered inconvenient by South Korea. If there is a villain in the current Korean crisis besides the lunatic Kim Jong Il, it is Seoul. For the South Korean government, the worst threat isn’t a totalitarian, nuclear-armed North, but the prospect of an enormous new line in its budget, with the fiscal strains that would come with the collapse of Pyongyang and reunification. South Korea thinks a good demilitarized zone makes for a good neighbor, even if the neighbor happens to be a prison camp.
South Korea calls its posture toward the North, in a perverse misnomer, “the sunshine policy” when it is really meant to keep the North plunged in darkness. The rising coalition wants a true sunshine policy, exposing the evil of the North, affording its people access to outside information, and offering the opportunity of escape.
A major bill that is set to be introduced in Congress would require the U.S. government to make reports on the North Korean human-rights situation, including releasing satellite photos of the gulag system, and to hold a series of hearings on persecution in North Korea. It would try to bring the outside world to the North, with extensive American radio broadcasting and the provision of transistor radios for North Koreans.
Importantly, the draft bill seeks to make it easier for North Koreans to leave the country. If North Koreans were allowed to vote with their feet, the Dear Leader would lose in a landslide. The model is Hungary and East Germany, where an immigration outflow in 1989 created the crisis that collapsed the Eastern Bloc.
There are an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 North Koreans already living in China. The bill would condition funding for the United Nations on its entering binding international arbitration with China over the status of North Korean refugees. China treats them as economic migrants who can be sent back to North Korea in the most brutal fashion possible, when they are really refugees who cannot be repatriated.
Meanwhile, U.S. immigration policy toward North Korea is shockingly stingy (if North Koreans were Mexicans, they would get much more generous treatment). The bill would make it possible for as many as 30,000 North Korean refugees to enter the United States this year, creating pressure — by example — on the South to honor its commitment to welcome North Korean refugees.
The bill’s architects contemplate using an even more forceful stick: A provision would stipulate that South Korea gets no U.S. aid to handle the collapse in Pyongyang unless it has had a hand in helping bring it about. If all South Korea cares about is its budget, this at least should get its attention. And maybe one day again the South will understand that human rights, not bribes, is the answer in North Korea.
© 2003 by King Features Syndicate
— Rich Lowry is author of the upcoming Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.