Reports suggest that North Korea today tested a nuclear device on par with the bomb that exploded over Hiroshima. The test is an indictment of more than 15 years of misguided diplomacy. Rather than win diplomatic pause, we and our allies in KEDO have given North Korea billions of dollars in aid and subsidies while they pursued this milestone unmolested and unabated.
It is doubtful that Pyongyang was ever sincere in its engagement. While some Clinton hands blame the Bush administration for the breakdown of the Agreed Framework, the more honest diplomats acknowledge that the evidence of North Korean cheating had simply grown too great to bear. The best argument those defending the process could come up with was that North Korea had violated only the Joint Declaration of North and South Korea on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, a rather silly argument given the incorporation of the Joint Declaration into the Agreed Framework and the larger point that North Korea simply did not abide by agreements.
The question now comes whether we will learn from the failures of both engagement and multilateralism. The links between Pyongyang and Tehran are strong. The arguments made now with regard to Tehran parallel those made 15 years ago with North Korea. The timeline won’t be the same, however, since North Korea has shown willingness to proliferate, selling technology to the highest bidder. Obama faces a real test with regard to Iran. Desperation to engage and willingness to admit guilt for imagined sins while seeing innocence in an adversary is not a strategy. Don’t repeat the mistakes of the past three administrations: that of George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush failed miserably on Korea. Learn the lessons; trash the model.