Foreign Policy

Former UN Ambassador: God Forbid We Miss Out on a Chance for War

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Very bizarre and telling comment from John Bolton on CNN yesterday regarding the North Korea nuke negotiations, as recorded by Eric Garris at antiwar.com. (I did not catch this myself):

The best thing you can say about this deal is that it's so incomplete, and that the North Koreans may yet save us from ourselves by overreaching. They violated the 1994 agreed framework because they want to have it both ways. They want to keep the nuclear program and get these economic benefits. So I'm hoping the North Koreans will come to our rescue and show they're not really serious here about denuclearizaion, because I don't think they are.

Well, at least a man who appears to think that a desire for negotiation over war is one of America's regrettable weaknesses that it needs to be saved from is no longer a leading diplomat.

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  1. I don’t find anything bizarre about his comment. North Korea agreed to accept a bribe and forsake a portion of its nuclear program. Anyone who believes that North Korea is now abandoning their nuclear goals is clearly deluding themselves.

    Bolton apparently things that the US negotiators did a shoddy job of producing anything substantive, and I agree.

  2. How, exactly, do you benefit from negotiating with people who have no intention of abiding by any agreement you make with them?

  3. It would be really nice to see a congressional investigation of the official clinical sanity of the employees of the executive branch. I would what their standard for sanity would be?

    Do you think homophobia could be a certified mental illness?

  4. That’s one way to interpet Bolton’s comments but there are others that make more sense. Surely, no one actually believes that “negotiations” with the North Koreans is something like negotiating with the Canadians. I must admit to finding it more than a bit refreshing that someone actualy says so.

    Bill Walsh

  5. On the other hand, he does have an awesome moustache.

  6. On the other hand, he does have an awesome moustache.

    Why don’t we make Geraldo Rivera ambassador to the UN then. At least he’s a libertarian. O wait who is the guy I’m thinking of?

  7. While this Bolton is also a no-talent-ass-clown who has a talent for dropping the baton in a one-man parade, he has merely articulated what I understand to be an open secret regarding negotiations with North Korea: That all involved on the US side hope that North Korea tells us to go to hell before we deliver the payoff, because they have absolutely no expectations of North Korea living up to even the most mundane of their commitments.

  8. We – as in Congress, which refused to authorize the funds – violated the Agreed Framework first.

    All of the work the North Koreans agreed to stop in that earlier agreement was stopped, verifiably, and a verification system put in place. The work they did on their nuke program after the agreement was not covered in that agreement.

  9. dropping the baton in a one-man parade

    I think “dropping the baton in a one-man relay” might be funnier. But that’s just me.

  10. Holy shit. Joe sticks up for North Korea. Now I’ve seen everything. But wait, there’s (I’m sure) more!

  11. “The work they did on their nuke program after the agreement was not covered in that agreement.”

    Since the agreement allowed the North Koreans to build nukes without violating it, doesn’t that make the agreement a sham?

    No one here knows enough to judge this agrement. It was six way talks. Perhaps the Chinese actually leaned on the North Koreans to get them to give up a good agreement. Perhaps this is another in a long string of lousy agrements but that is all we are going to get. The U.S. cannot unilaterally go to war with North Korea when doing so will destroy South Korea and possibly Japan. North Korea is a regional problem and without the help of Japan, China and South Korea, there is nothing anyone can do about them.

  12. Do something and Seoul disappears from a conventional onslaught in under an hour. Do nothing and the people of NK starve and die from brutal repression. So is it better to just give this crazy man and worthless system goods to slow the starving and dying of his people but also ensure it draws out over a longer time? No win, indeed.

  13. Honestly, I think we would be best off if we pulled our troops out of the Korean peninsula and refused to provide any aid to the North. Furthermore, I would recommend that we *quietly* negotiate with the Chinese to allow northerners to come to the U.S. when picked up by Chinese authorities (instead of being repatriated). The chinese proposal does not have to succeed for the policy to work.

    The North Korean system is on the verge of collapse. The economy depends to much on the production of slave laborers working in death-camps.

    These camps require a pretty constant supply of fresh slaves to make up for the fatalities. Essentially, the North Korean population is contracting, and I think the leadership is very close to a Romania style collapse.

    The process will accelerate if the Chinese govt stops forcing people to that hellhole.
    All economies based on slavery require that the slaves’ chances of escape be almost 0. Currently the Chinese provide the same function that the Federal Govt did in enforcing the Fugitive Slave Acts. The North Koreans cannot convert their norther border into an impregnable wall like in the south.

  14. All of the work the North Koreans agreed to stop in that earlier agreement was stopped, verifiably, and a verification system put in place. The work they did on their nuke program after the agreement was not covered in that agreement.
    I see joe is going with the usual donk talking points…
    You might remember the ‘first framework” was related to the enrichment of U-235. The Norks signed the agreement and then went on their merry way producing Pu-239. They must have hired a lawyer. And Clinton was president so they had no worries.
    But then the Norks have had fifty some years of breaking agreements with everyone, including the old USSR and red China.

  15. “Holy shit. Joe sticks up for North Korea. Now I’ve seen everything. But wait, there’s (I’m sure) more!”

    Please note the complete absence of any facts in this quote.

    This is why we the debate is so distorted by partisanship – because people like Face Thingy Guy judge the value of a statement by its political implications, not its relationship to objective truth.

    Is anything I wrote incorrect? Or is it just not convenient for you to face those facts?

  16. John,

    “Sham” is too strong a word. The Albright agreement was supposed to be a part of an ongoing process, to deal with developments as they occured. It is unfortunate that the Republican Congress, and later Bush, cut that process off, and allowed the North Koreans’ subsequent actions to go unaddressed for so many years.

  17. Eric A,

    Calling them “donk talking points” doesn’t change the fact that my statements were true.

  18. “Perhaps this is another in a long string of lousy agrements but that is all we are going to get. The U.S. cannot unilaterally go to war with North Korea when doing so will destroy South Korea and possibly Japan. North Korea is a regional problem and without the help of Japan, China and South Korea, there is nothing anyone can do about them.”

    In other words, the last six years have been completely wasted, as we could have had this same deal back then.

    I hope the tough-guy anti-diplomats don’t pop out their shoulders as they pat themselves on the back for talking tough for all that time as North Korea built warheads and missiles.

  19. Joe.
    Them fact that what you said is incorrect is what makes your statements wrong.

  20. Brian your a fucking idiot. You imply we should negoiate with someone who has no intention of keeping his word. That is really dumb.
    Seriously Brian, can you read?
    The quality of this website is sinking.

  21. But I should talk…
    The “framwork agreement” was for the Norks to stop producing Pu-239. They then launched in to enriching U-235. I got it back assward, but the point is the same. The Norks are as trust worthy as someone selling three dollar bills.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agreed_Framework_between_the_United_States_of_America_and_the_Democratic_People%27s_Republic_of_Korea

  22. North Korea is a regional problem and without the help of Japan, China and South Korea, there is nothing anyone can do about them.

    Yup. Ted Galen Carpenter wrote a nice paper on this four years ago. Money quote:

    It is time-indeed, it is well past time-to tell Japan and South Korea that they must provide for their own defense and take responsibility for dealing with security problems in their region. The continuing reliance of those two countries on the United States is not healthy for them-and it certainly is not healthy for America. Japan and South Korea, together with China and Russia, should bear the burden of dealing with a dangerous and unpredictable North Korea.

  23. “Them fact that what you said is incorrect is what makes your statements wrong.”

    OK, Eric, what fact was incorrect?

  24. Sorry joe, but your comment is the very first time that I have heard anyone ever assert anything of that sort. Please excuse my incredulity. Do you have any references to support your understanding of the facts?

  25. “Sham” is too strong a word. The Iraq war was supposed to be a part of an ongoing process, to deal with developments as they occured. It is unfortunate that the Democratic Congress, and later Insert Dem president elected in 2008, cut that process off, and allowed Islamic terrorists’ subsequent actions to go unaddressed for so many years.

  26. How does that argument look now, joe?

  27. Well,joe you seem to me to be saying that because the US Congress failed to allocate funds for the agreement, due to the fact that some in the Congress understood the Norks were violating the spirit of said agreement by working to produce nuclear weapons, that the US is somehow at fault. We did not force the Norks to enrich U-235.

  28. Holy shit. Joe sticks up for North Korea. Now I’ve seen everything. But wait, there’s (I’m sure) more!

    waiting for rick barton to blame this on israel. and the new antisemite poster, i forget his handle, to blame international jewry and cite churchill.

    in 5, 4, 3, 2…

  29. Has anybody read Fred Kaplan’s take on this issue in Slate?

    A relevant quote…

    Bush may also face resistance from his own party. Clinton did. The Agreed Framework started to fall apart when Congress refused to authorize the money for energy assistance

  30. 4 Obvious truths:

    1. North Korea will never abide by any agreement they make as long as Kim Jong Il is in power.

    2. Bolton, though aggressive and belligerent, has largely been correct.

    3. Aggressiveness, belligerence and the ability to point out the obvious to everyone in the room is not usually a desirable quality in a diplomat. One might go so far as to say that it’s a liablity.

    4. NOTHING the Bush administration has done (or NOT done) has changed the relationship with North Korea. Diplomatically, Bush and Cheney have behaved like misguided amateurs.

  31. Stating that negotiation is useful when it gets the North Koreans to stop producing plutonium, but doesn’t address the enrichment of uranium, is like the home seller who says he must get 500K for his house, signs a contract with that price, but with him paying 10k of the buyer’s closing costs, and then claims it was a successful negotiation.

  32. Rimfax,

    I don’t have links hand; my googling would be not better than yours.

    Mirror joe,

    That’s a useful snark, because it draws attention to the fact that ultimately-useless war kill thousands upon thousands of people, in addition to failing to solve the problem they’re supposed to address, while ultimatley-useless negotiations cause no additional harm.

    Or did you not think of that when you hit Submit Comment?

  33. Anyone who is surprised to see Joe “stick up for Korea” must be new here.

    Personally, I think a fairer reading of Bolton’s quote is that he hopes that North Korea will “show” they are not really serious because he knows from experience that they are not really serious.

    This is not at all inconsistent with wishing they WERE really serious. But, given that they are not, he and I both hope that the world notices. And, this is most likely to happen as the result of some NK silliness.

  34. Eric,

    So in other words, you don’t have anything to back up your assertion. Maybe you should be less of dick in such circumstances.

    Anyway, you might or might be correct that North Korea would violate an agreement regardless of whether we held up our end. We don’t really know. When Party A breaks a deal, and then Party B breaks the deal, it’s worth considering at least the possibility that Party A’s behavior influenced Party B’s.

  35. ultimatley-useless negotiations cause no additional harm

    Assuming that it is harmless for NK to obtain a nucular missile.

  36. bubba,

    You might want to sit down for this:

    Sometimes, the United States isn’t right. Sometimes, the facts are against us. Even when it hurts your feelings to admit it.

  37. “Assuming that it is harmless for NK to obtain a nucular missile.”

    North Korea obtained a nuclear missile while we WEREN’T negotiating with the, you dolt.

  38. Here’s an idea. Say NK was bad for going behind the NPT and enriching uranium, we’re bad for sitting on our hands for six years and letting them get nukes before agreeing to something that was basically possible from the get-go, and John Bolton’s bad because he’s HOPING the deal goes south and NK pumps out more nukes just so he feel vindicated

  39. From what I can tell, the Clinton admin made the best deal that could be made, and it did succeed in preventing N. Korea from building nukes while it was in effect. If that’s a failure, we need more failures.

    And yes, the U.S. should pull its troops out of S. Korea.

  40. Hmm. Seems to me that (1) Clinton negotiated a deal, (2) NK immediately or shortly started on a secret work-around that violated the Non-Proliferation Treaty but not the Agreed Framework, (3) Congress wouldn’t pony up for the promised light-water reactors at about the same time that (4) North Korea began actually violating the AF, then (5) Bush wouldn’t negotiate while (6) NK began reprocessing spent fuel rods.

    I was never impressed with the AF, but it seems that Congress bears much of the responsibility for its failure. NK has never been punished for violating the NPT. And I can’t see that anything Bush has done has really made (or COULD really make) much difference.

    NK is its own special little problem, all bundled up for China and SK and, to a lesser extent, Japan and Russia, to deal with. The main reason for the US to remain involved is to maintain sole Great Power status.

    Which raises the question, why are those most critical of the US as Great Power also the most eager to see it involved in negotiations with NK? After all, if the upshot of a deal is oil and (possibly) light-water reactors for NK, China or Russia are capable of providing that.

  41. I don’t see a lot of public pressure or blame on Pakistan (in the person of A.Q. Khan with or without Musharraf’s complicity) for selling the technology to NK and Iran and probably Libya.

    I wonder why that is?

  42. Shelby,

    “why are those most critical of the US as Great Power also the most eager to see it involved in negotiations with NK?”

    Because North Korea isn’t building nukes to deter the Japanese, Russians, South Koreans, or Chinese from waging a war on the Korean penninsula.

  43. Because North Korea isn’t building nukes to deter the Japanese, Russians, South Koreans, or Chinese from waging a war on the Korean penninsula.

    As if…do you really think that if we pulled out and told the entire Pacific basin to go screw that NK would say “well…guess we don’t need nukes anymore”? c’mon…

  44. joe,

    Actually, I suspect it’s precisely to keep China and the South Koreans from “waging a war on the Korean peninsula,” so that NK can take over SK without a fight, or at least much less of one. In any event that makes more sense than expecting the US to attack them. They haven’t had nukes for the past 55 years, and we haven’t attacked (despite an ongoing “war”); why would we do so now?

    Conversely, they haven’t had a good deterent against outside forces — but now they do, making it safer to get aggressive.

  45. It is pointless to say that a negotiation “was the best that could be done”, when the result of the negotiation has zero impact on achieving desired goals. If the goal is to keep North Korea from buiding a nuclear weapon, it is pointless to negotiate on the production of plutonium alone, when there is very large reason to think that North Korea will work very hard to obtain nuclear weapons by other means. In fact, it is potentially worse than pointless, because negotiating as if one doesn’t know what the critical goal of the negotiation is can sometimes engender contempt, and when dealing with military issues, one should avoid engendering contempt, except if one secretly desires war.

  46. I tend to agree with Shelby. NK submitted to the Agreed Framework. They then sneakily did something that was okay under the AF, but not under the NPT.

    This sort of thing is generally called “Political business as usual”. It was a pretty open and transparent ploy to get us back to the table and plug that particular loophole. There are a lot of things NK wanted more than nukes, and they figured they could get another deal.

    Congress stopped abiding by our half of the AF, and after waiting a bit, NK scrapped the slow decade+ process to enrich uranium and then very openly and publically began enriching plutonium.

    North Korea wanted oil and food. What they had to trade for it was their weapons program. They sold us their plutonium program for food, oil, and some reactors — when we didn’t pay, they took their program back. And they did it slowly, openly, and deliberately. They were practically begging the Bush Administration to follow through on the Agreed Framework goals.

    Sadly for everyone, we had some real idiots running the show. And now North Korea has nukes PLUS it’s nuclear program. And it’s still trying to make the same deal — it’s program for food, oil, and energy. Hopefully this time the White House will tack on uranium enrichment (a slow and painful process, which is why the Clinton Administration was focused on the fast and easy plutonium).

    So we’re back to 1994, only North Korea actually has nuclear weapons now. Heck’avu job, George.

  47. “They haven’t had nukes for the past 55 years, and we haven’t attacked (despite an ongoing “war”); why would we do so now?”

    Maybe because we weren’t the sole superpower for most of those 55 years?

    Maybe because of the Iraq War?

  48. Maybe because the megalopolis capital of one of our major allies sits within artillery range of the border and could be flattened within a couple hours of conflict?

  49. It’s pointless to say that events that took place after we violated a treaty demonstrate that the treaty accomplished nothing.

  50. Some James,

    Was your statement supposed to be an answer to “They haven’t had nukes for the past 55 years, and we haven’t attacked (despite an ongoing “war”); why would we do so now?”

    Because it isn’t.

  51. By the way, engendering contempt was pretty much the policy of the United States in regards to the Islamic world from the early 70s, right up to 9/11, with the embassy hostage crisis in Tehran, the actions of American forces in Lebanon and Somalia, along with other notable instances, leading the way. It is an exceedingly dangerous thing to do.

  52. Not really an answer for anything. Just a comment. Your responses were all raised in the negative (ie, reasons we would NOT attack, at least in the far or immediate past), and the one I gave’s been pretty much a constant.

    I think it was probably a given that both sides would violate the treaty, and it was only meant to be a stop-gap thing, to be reconsidered. It’s good that there is a deal. I hope it’s verifiable and long lasting, but it’s painfully mindboggling that the deal was so obvious and avoided for so long.

    As an aside, who was digging the coverage of what a “hottie” US negotiator Christopher Hill is up to the announcement of the deal?

  53. Joe –

    NK began actively (and soon, openly) reprocessing fuel rods by 2002 to produce nuclear weapons. Perhaps they did so (13 years after the fact) because the Soviet Union collapsed.

    However, if you claim they did so because of the Iraq War (initiated in 2003) you must believe they already* possess a time machine.

    * stipulating that “already” is probably a moot term when it comes to time machines.

  54. Joe, if you want to negotiate with your neighbor to not have his lawn grow four feet tall, in return for your buying him a lawnmower, the fact that you didn’t buy the lawnmower has no impact on the pointlessness of you only adressing the front yard, when you know he is highly motivated to let the grass grow long in the back yard as well. You were wasting your time from the beginning, and your neighbor was likely laughing at you the entire time behind your back. Now, having your neighbor laugh behind your back is really no big deal when we are talking about long grass. Having a nation do so with regards to military issues is a very big deal, and quite dangerous, unless it is your secret goal to provoke a war.

  55. Morat, if North Korea wanted oil and food, and were willing to trade their weapons programs, with both plutonium and uranium, then that is what should have been demanded in 1994. Even people who negotiate for a living sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that all negotiation is positive, as long as “progress” is being made. Such people are frequently taken to the cleaners.

  56. Somes James,

    Ah. I get it now.

    Shelby,

    The Axis of Evil speech, and Bush’s clear intent to invade one member of that axis both date back to 2001.

    Will,

    If your neighbor has only allowed his front yard to grow long, then it makes sense to start witih that. What is foolish is ending it there.

    The deal was called an “Agreed Framework,” because it wasn’t supposed to be a stand-alone deal, but a stage in a process.

  57. Joe,

    That’s more likely than “because of the Iraq War”. I still think that, because it’s so mind-bogglingly unlikely the US would ever invade NK, it’s implausible to advance that as their ACTUAL reason (as opposed to “stated” reason) for wanting nukes.

    Moreover, the timeline on building nukes makes them useful only several years after you start even a very aggressive program, especially with an economy the size of NK’s. So unless you believe that NK, in turn, believes the US plans to invade a series of countries around the globel WITHOUT consideration of the tactical, strategic or geopolitical environment … then the rationale you advance doesn’t hold up. ANd NK’s actions demonstrate it’s a more rational actor than that.

  58. “around the globe

  59. Joe, if letting the back yard grow long is an unacceptable outcome, then it makes no sense to start with something that doesn’t address eliminating what is unacceptable. Getting the person you are negotiating with to think that “progress” is being made when you’ve never offered anything which affects the critical issue, x, or not x, is usually a good way to prevail.

  60. The United States would never invade North Korea without South Korean and Chinese cooperation (do you envision a replay of Inchon, except without any cooperation by South Koreans?). The South Koreans and Chinese will never agree to do so, unless the fool to the north actually instigates an attack.

  61. Morat, if North Korea wanted oil and food, and were willing to trade their weapons programs, with both plutonium and uranium, then that is what should have been demanded in 1994. Even people who negotiate for a living sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that all negotiation is positive, as long as “progress” is being made. Such people are frequently taken to the cleaners.

    That’s what the agreed framework was. They put their plutonium under lock-and-key (under the eyes of observers) right up until the point where we reneged on the deal.

    The uranium thing was totally seperate — you can view it as cheating on the ‘spirit’ of the Agreed Framework or a clever loophole, but they showed all the signs of being open to selling that one off for more food, oil, and reactors.

  62. Shelby,

    Let’s not rule out entirely the fact that Kim Jon Il is a paranoid looney-toon, and that he himself does completely crazy shit that, objectively, harms his country’s security. I find it entirely plausible that he could overestimate our actual willingness to invade his country.

    Will Allen,

    “Joe, if letting the back yard grow long is an unacceptable outcome, then it makes no sense to start with something that doesn’t address eliminating what is unacceptable.” You’ve got to start somewhere. It only makes sense not to bring it up in the first round of negotiations if you don’t intend for there to be a second.

    Look at our history of arms deals with the Soviets – we’d strike an initial deal, then expand on it.

  63. Then we should have demanded that they sell off the uranium development in 1994, Morat. It is usually inadvisable to provide loopholes to people with whom one does not place great trust. In fact, it’s usually stupid.

  64. Joe,

    One last comment. I agree with you re Kim Jong Il; I just disagree that he (unlike kim pere) has such unilateral control of his country that he can steer it singlehanded. He needs the buy-in of the military, among other (possible) factions. I don’t think they’ll let him take a course they consider objectively harmful to his country’s security, at least not seriously harmful. That’s why I refer to NK, not KJI, as a rational actor.

  65. joe, we never had a position that any possession of nuclear weapons by the Soviets was an unacceptable outcome. We do/did with the North Koreans. The analogy is inapt.

  66. Will Allen,

    I agree that that difference exists, but it is not really relevant. Yes our goal with the Soviets was “fewer nukes” and our goal with the Norks is “no nukes,” but that doesn’t refute the idea that the strategy of negotiations we used to reduce the threat of Soviet nukes is inapplicable to North Korea.

  67. Yes, Joe, it does, because if the goal is no nukes, then one has to negotiate, way back in 1994, to take all the nukes off the table. Otherwise, you’re likely just wasting your time or worse, especially given the negotiating partner.

  68. Will,

    “{…if the goal is no nukes, then one has to negotiate, way back in 1994, to take all the nukes off the table.”

    Why? Why not get concession A, then concession B, then concession C? Especially when demanding A, B, and C is likely to shut down the talks entirely?

    That’s how most diplomatic campaigns work. That’s how Reagan dealt with Gorbachev.

  69. That’s how Reagan dealt with Gorbachev.

    at least after he turned the arms race up to 11.

  70. As I see it, the major cards are held by the Chinese–the question is whether they have any real control over their weird little pet.

    The other thing is I don’t think China wants Japan to get into an arms race with them, which they would do if they got too terrified of N.K.

    That’s also probably the calculation the U.S. is making. As long as it plays “big umbrella”, it can keep the tensions a bit more under control. Taking away U.S. protection COULD spark an arms race–and if N.K. gets worried, no one knows who they could sell their technology to.

    What’s holding this delicate balance of power, IMO, is that China isn’t that keen about the possibility of N.K. selling technology out there, either. So so far they’re willing to play along.

  71. edna,

    Our military dominance vs. North Korea is far greater than it was vs. the USSR.

    I think you just made a point in my favor.

  72. Because, Joe, you are negotiating for an all-or-nothing proposition with an adversary who is most unlikely to to keep any agreement which provides the smallest loophole. When negotiating an all-or-nothing proposition one must get all of the cards on the table, because there are no partial victories available

    The surest way to fail in a negotiation is to lose sight of what one actually needs, and with whom one is negotiating with. Now, if one begins with the proposition that it actually will be acceptable for North Korea to have a few nuclear devices, that changes everything.

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