Shadow Government

How to quarantine the spreading cancer of North Korea

By Philip Zelikow

An appropriate policy toward North Korea should quarantine and limit the threat the state can pose to the United States and its allies. U.S. diplomacy, properly conceived, should always have had two goals. First, to offer -- in good faith -- a genuine opportunity for the North to make a constructive strategic choice for the future.  Second, to strengthen U.S. and allied ability (political as well as military) to defend themselves if the North made a different choice.

Some people tend to emphasize only the diplomatic track; others only emphasize the defensive measures. The key point, which former Secretary Rice and former Deputy Secretary Zoellick understood very well, was that the first track is a necessary enabler for the second one. So in 2005, the United States reinvigorated the Six Party process to make the first track real. And in 2005, the United States took steps that effectively destroyed a Chinese bank in Macau, the Banco Delta Asia, illustrating America's readiness to pursue the other track as well.

This dual strategy heightened tension, culminating in North Korea's nuclear test of 2006. Yet the international response in 2006 displayed unanimity and firmness that had not been seen since 1953, evident in UN Security Council resolution 1718. The result was a fresh diplomatic opening, a promising agreement in February 2007, and a further test of North Korean intentions, one so specific and unequivocal that the results were bound to be revealing.

North Korean behavior in 2007 was indeed revealing. Despite some great pictures for CNN, North Korea failed adequately to account for its past nuclear trade, including possible transfers of enriched uranium to Libya and possible transfers of nuclear fuel (as well as much other help) to Syria. Although the known plutonium production facility was temporarily disabled, possible uranium enrichment facilities remained. Of course, the possible Libyan and definite Syrian choices were made in the past. But it was (and is) essential for the United States and its allies to develop some reasonable understanding of how that proliferation path worked -- and was funded -- to have adequate confidence that the path is gone.

Thus, during 2007, the United States and its allies could conclude that they would not be able to achieve a critical, realistic objective: a verifiable cap on North Korea's capacity to build nuclear weapons and produce weapons-usable nuclear material. Such a concrete objective would have been worth the candle -- a good prelude to a further, comprehensive phase of Korean diplomacy that would include the attainment of complete denuclearization, as required by UNSC 1718 and as pledged by North Korea in 1992, 2005, and 2007. Attainment of even that preliminary objective was in even greater doubt, though, given the evidence of 2007.

Nonetheless, the United States helped construct a further agreement (Beijing, October 2007) to keep the diplomatic process afloat rather than move it to a new phase. Why? I don't know. Today's Wall Street Journal editorial listed me as first, ahead even of Chris Hill and Condi Rice, in persuading President Bush to make the October 2007 decision to keep that diplomatic track alive and take North Korea off the terror list. That rank ordering in supposed infamy is especially bizarre, since I had left the administration at the end of 2006. (Perhaps someone wanted to sling something at me because of my stance on terrorism issues, and this was the only available clod of mud.)

The pros and cons of the October 2007 decision are hard for me to judge. I'm certainly inclined to give President Bush and Secretary Rice the benefit of doubt. Perhaps the moves to destroy the plutonium facility seemed so encouraging; the uranium enrichment concerns seemed wispy; and forcing the North to admit a past it could not acknowledge would seem merely backward-looking and punitive, rather than future-oriented and constructive.

Yet there were large downsides of keeping the process afloat with the October 2007 Beijing agreement, and they grew, especially as the Beijing agreement proved hollow. The uranium enrichment issues had been spotlighted by the new evidence on Libya and Syria ties and did not seem to be getting addressed. The coalition-building benefits with South Korea were diminishing, especially as the South Korean people repudiated the policy direction of the late president Roh Moo-hyun. The already-strained relations with Japan had to carry a heavier burden of mistrust. The bonds with China remained strong, but there was a danger of short-sightedness. As China effectively took on more responsibility as North Korea's protector and guarantor in the diplomacy, Chinese action or inaction on this topic could become another potential issue in an utterly vital connection: Chinese relations with Japan.

In any case, the United States definitely went the extra mile in its diplomacy. Now Washington can credibly offer coalition leadership in developing appropriate defensive measures of all kinds.

1. Sanctions?  It would be nice to enforce fully the ones already on the books in UNSC 1718.

2. Instead what is needed is international action by interested parties to redress the violation of UNSC 1718 with suitable defensive measures under Chapter VII. Either the UN should expressly authorize that, or note that this will happen, or the Security Council should remain silent. It set the international norm in 2006 and did so under Chapter VII.  The norm has been violated. Unless a further resolution is suitably empowering, silence might be best. The Security Council should not limit what can be done by specifying it.

3. The United States must now treat the North Koreans as having crossed the "red line" of proliferating nuclear material and, based on our analysis of how they did this, do everything possible to disable this capability.

4. Also, as I wrote in this space a few months ago, the United States should take necessary preparations with its allies to limit North Korean development of the ballistic missiles they could marry with their nuclear (or biological or chemical) payloads.

5. Keep in mind that all of this is a curtain-raiser for the Obama administration's still too-be-determined policy on Iran.

Certainly any measure that confronts North Korea carries risks of escalation. The North Korean government made the decision to act beyond its borders.  The United States should prepare with its allies to address these risks. Evidence of that preparation is the best way to reduce the risk. And our Chinese and Russian friends can judge for themselves how best to manage the risks they see arising from this cancer across the Yalu.

Shadow Government

A Memorial Day Question

Memorial Day is a day for remembrance and reflection.  This Memorial Day, I
have been remembering and reflecting upon a question that I never fully
answered when I was inside and that still confounds me even now when I have more time to ponder.  Is it appropriate for Americans to see the military as heroes and, if so, what role should political leaders play in that?

There are discernible differences between the parties on this topic, and
these differences have evolved over time.  At the risk of great
simplification just to spark reflection, since the Vietnam War era
Republicans have alternated between a "military as victim" and "military as
hero" narrative.  During the late Vietnam and early post-Vietnam era, the
military as victim narrative dominated in Republican circles.  Soldiers were
victims of bad (mainly Democratic) political leadership who made strategic
blunders and cost them victory.  Reagan harnessed the emotion that sprung
from that narrative but spun it around into a "military as hero" narrative
that fueled the Republican-led defense build-up and culminated in the Desert Storm victory that President Bush (41) claimed vanquished the Vietnam Syndrome.  However, by the mid-1990's, Republicans were tending to view the military as a victim again, this time a victim of Democratic policies that had them promiscuously engaged in frivolous nation-building exercises around the world or of dubious social engineering policies, while dangerously depleting funds from basic readiness and training accounts.  Help was on the way, President Bush (43) promised, and since his election the "military as hero" narrative has dominated Republican discourse.  To be sure, grumbling within Republican ranks about the strain on the force caused by the simultaneous pursuit of the Afghan and Iraq wars along with Rumsfeld's
transformation agenda, has shown up in occasional "military as victim"
storylines.  And those storylines may be growing within Republican ranks as
President Obama puts his personal stamp on national security policy.  But I
would say the dominant Republican narrative remains "military as hero."

For Democrats, or at least for an influential and prominent strand within
the Democratic party, the narrative has oscillated between "military as
perpetrator" and "military as victim" narratives.  The "military as
perpetrator" narrative was prominent in critiques about military abuses
during the Vietnam War, in critiques about military spending during the
Reagan build-up, and in critiques about military atavism on social policy
during the 1990s years; think "My Lai massacre," and "$600 toilet seats,"
and "Tailhook."   But Democrats have more recently given more prominent play to a "military as victim" narrative that culminated in the role that wounded vets and the families of slain soldiers played in the election cycles of 2004, 2006, and 2008.  Abuses during the Iraq war have led some to flirt
with a "military as perpetrator" narrative -- as in Murtha's comments about
the Haditha killings -- but in the main, Democrats view the perpetrators to
be President Bush and his top civilian team and the military to be the
victims on whom the wrongs have been perpetrated.

These lines are blurry.  After all, the "Reagan defense build-up" actually
began under President Carter so arguably it was Democrats who began the push to revive the military as heroes.  And sometimes the "military as victim" narrative is spun into a "military as heroic victim," as when Democrats hail General Shinseki for challenging Rumsfeld on Iraq policy.  And Democrats have worked hard to purge the "military as perpetrator" narrative from their ranks because they recognize that it is electorally toxic; the deliberate cultivation of "military as victim" is due, I am sure, to political leaders recognizing that it offers Democrats a "sweet spot" of empathizing with a popular institution while maintaining a scorched earth critique of Republican national security policies.  It also goes without saying that the true picture of the military is complicated and probably an amalgam of all of these narratives (and more besides).

Yet, if I am right in broad terms about the ebb and flow of these narratives
and the role of the political parties in promoting them, my underlying
question remains unanswered -- multiple questions, actually.  What is the
appropriate mix of narratives?  Does the remarkably high regard the public
holds for the military indicate that the public is duped by these
narratives, or that the public is able to see through them to some deeper
narrative?  Can we celebrate the "military as hero" narrative without giving
way to militarism?

For my part, I wish the Democratic party would feel more comfortable with
the "military as hero" narrative.  I wish they could more often celebrate a
military hero on his or her own terms -- as someone who accomplished a very difficult and noble mission against a determined foe.  But I don't think it would be healthy for that to be the only narrative available.  And I don't
think it is healthy for Republicans to promote only the "military as hero"
narrative.  

War is hell, and the human costs of war are a great tragedy.  As a nation,
we must not forget that.  Like the slave who whispered, "remember you are
mortal" to the Roman military hero in the victor's parade, these other
narratives are a useful reminder of some painful truths about the military.

So this Memorial Day, and every day, it is worth asking our political
leaders from both parties to see and present a more complete picture.  And
we, as engaged citizens, should reflect on the heroism, sacrifice, and
blunders that comprise our nation's long military record.  We should thank
the military and their families for their service -- celebrating the heroes,
caring for the victims, and holding accountable those who erred.