The Corner

NK Deal-Breaking

For a bizarre exercise, try comparing John Bolton’s recent column on the North Korean nuclear deal with this column on the same topic by Graham Allison, foreign policy advisor to the Kerry-Edwards campaign.

The North Koreans are way past deadline on their commitment (in the Feb. 13 nuclear agreement) to shut down the Yongbyon nuclear reactor. Allison says NK’s got a “plausible excuse” for this: the Bush administration has failed to uphold its part of the bargain by releasing $25 million in frozen North Korean funds from a Macau bank. But while Allison writes as though that commitment to unfreeze funds was part and parcel of the Feb. 13 agreement, Bolton tells a different story.

According to Bolton, the American commitment to unfreeze funds was not part of the public Feb. 13 agreement, but was instead a secret agreement negotiated (later?) on the side, under North Korean pressure–in effect a bit of U.S. capitulation hidden from the American public by the administration. Allison chastises the Bush administration for continued delay in fulfilling its commitment to unfreeze the funds. But Bolton chastises the Bush administration for a secret train of post-agreement capitulations, including, but going far beyond, the Macau bank issue. (Again, the secrecy here is meant to fool the American public, not the North Koreans.) So according to Allison, the U.S. is dragging its feet on fulfillment of the Feb. 13 agreement, while according to Bolton, it’s the North Koreans who are dragging things out by subjecting America to repeated post-agreement demands for side-deals (thus setting a precedent for further blackmail by Iranians and other prospective nuclear powers).

You might think that, given the account so far, Allison has faith in North Korean compliance. Not so. Although Allison appears to favor our nuclear deal with North Korea, and is mad at the Bush administration for supposedly slowing compliance down, he clearly believes that the North Koreans are going to do mischief to the agreement. Allison is convinced that North Korea will keep several nuclear bombs, will hide a portion of its nuclear activity, and will actually sell some of its nuclear weapons production capability from the dismantled Yongbyon reactor to would-be proliferators. Allison is also convinced that China will happily permit all this. So why is Allison in favor of an agreement that accomplishes so little–and that may even spur proliferation? Allison doesn’t say. Bolton, on the other hand, wants President Bush to seize on North Korean violations to repudiate the Feb. 13 agreement. Given Allison’s account, it’s tough to disagree.

It gets worse. Whereas Bolton says nothing about how many bombs NK might have, Allison claims that North Korea already has 10 nuclear bombs. (Where does this estimate come from?) So why, if Allison believes that Kim Jong Il is going to sell part of his weapons production capability to proliferators, does Allison not also believe that Kim will sell one or two completed bombs?

At any rate, several conclusions emerge from a comparison of Allison and Bolton: 1) Neither friends nor foes of the Feb.13 agreement seem to believe it will work. 2) North Korea may soon become an extremely dangerous distributor of nuclear weapons production technology (and possibly completed nuclear weapons) to the world as a whole. 3) China cannot be depended upon to solve the problem of a nuclear North Korea. 4) The U.S. knows very little about North Korea’s nuclear program. 5) The American public knows relatively little about what our own administration has yielded to the North Koreans. 6) Republican vs. Democrat accounts of even the most basic facts about our agreement with North Korea appear to be widely at variance.