On Saturday, the United States and Japan finally got a UN Security Council resolution condemning North Korea. After much tough talk and bluster since North Korea launched ballistic missiles on July 4th, the United States and Japan backpedaled hard to save face at the United Nations. It is an indication of the weakness of the Bush Administration on the world stage that vis-à-vis the most isolated regime on the planet the United States is impotent.
The UN Security Council passed Resolution 1695 condemning North Korea’s missile launches without invoking Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. China had insisted that any resolution with the force of Chapter 7 would be met with a veto. After a week of negotiation, the French and the British brokered a resolution that does not contain reference to Chapter 7, but instead includes the following phrase:
Acting under its special responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security…
Chapter 7 of the UN Charter provides the Security Council the legal authority to act, militarily if necessary, to "maintain or restore international peace and security." Without reference to Chapter 7, a Security Council resolution has about the same force as a UN General Assembly resolution, which is to say none.
Kim Jong Il will feel emboldened after receiving a slap on the wrist for his missile tantrum. Mr. Bush on the other hand has been reduced to nonsensical musings about North Korea – a far cry from the heady days of bravado in the spring of 2001. Last week at a press conference, Mr. Bush had this to say about the Dear Leader:
Look, I don’t know — I don’t know what the man’s intentions are. I don’t know what they are. It’s an interesting question: Is he trying to force us to do something by defying the world? If he wants a way forward, it’s clear. If he wants to have good relations with the world, he’s got to verifiably get rid of his weapons programs like he agreed to do in 1994, stop testing missiles, and there is a way forward. Part of the discussions in September were, here’s a way forward. Here’s a way for — he’s worried about energy, and our partners at the table said, well, here’s an energy proposal for you to consider. And so the choice is his to make.
Clearly Mr. Bush is in need of some face time with Kim Jong Il so that he can look into his soul and find out what the man’s intentions are. It is not surprising that the Bush Administration does not understand North Korea’s intentions, but it is nonetheless quite alarming. It is also a direct consequence of Mr. Bush’s lack of a policy vis-à-vis North Korea.
Mr. Bush has not had a North Korea policy since he unceremoniously disposed of the Clinton Administration’s policy of engagement with the communist nation. In 2001, the new Republican Administration decided that America needed a new tougher policy toward the world and decided to put its blinders on. In doing so, it abandoned significant progress made by the Clinton Administration:
Toward the end of his term, Clinton made what officials said was significant progress toward an agreement under which North Korea would have abandoned its long-range missile programs in return for foreign help with launching North Korean satellites. But he ran out of time to clinch a deal.
The Bush Administration had decided to review (suspend) the Clinton Administration’s North Korea policies in favor of doing nothing. In a somewhat prophetic statement, a senior administration official was quoted at the time:
On the missile talks, the aide said before Bush took office last month: "We made clear to the Clinton administration that it was their decision to go forward and that we would then come back and take a fresh look at the entire policy.
"We don’t have a policy yet on whether we want to restart those discussions." [Emphasis added by me.]
In a sign of what was to come, Colin Powell, the chief American Diplomat, found himself advocating a policy his boss did not subscribe to. On March 6, 2001, Secretary Powell felt that the United States had a North Korea policy based on those of the previous administration:
Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday the United States has "a lot to offer" North Korea if it curbs its missile development and missile export programs.
Powell said future U.S. contacts with Pyongyang would become clearer after South Korean President Kim Dae-jung’s visit.
"We do plan to engage with North Korea to pick up where President Clinton and his administration left off," Powell told a State Department news conference.
"Some promising elements were left on the table and we will be examining those elements," he added.
On March 7, 2001, President Bush publicly humiliated Colin Powell by informing the world that the United States did not have a North Korea policy:
"We look forward to at some point in the future having a dialogue with the North Koreans but … any negotiation would require complete verification," Bush told reporters in the Oval Office with Kim at his side.
"Part of the problem in dealing with North Korea is there’s not very much transparency. We’re not certain as to whether or not they’re keeping all terms of all agreements," Bush added.
Since the decision in 2001 by the Bush Administration to suspend negotiations with North Korea, many experts have urged the United States to reconsider such a head in the sand approach to foreign policy. However, this Administration has always considered diplomacy to be tantamount to appeasement. The Bush Administration did not then, nor does it now, understand that diplomacy and discussions have many purposes. Discussion is not a sign of weakness nor is it appeasement. One major benefit of discussion with your adversary is that it gives you insight into your adversary’s motivations. That insight is essential to a successful foreign policy. Without such insight, Mr. Bush today is confronting a major international crisis without any sense of what North Korea’s motivations are.
In place of diplomacy, the Bush Administration has engaged in a war of words with North Korea that has led to the crisis we face today. Under Mr. Bush’s watch we have seen North Korea withdraw from the NPT, build nuclear weapons, and test fire nuclear capable missiles. Without any coherent policy, the Bush Administration pays lip service to the Six-Party Talks while insisting that the other parties to the talks share the same interests as the United States. Nothing could be further from the truth. The only country which has similar interests as the United States vis-à-vis North Korea is Japan. The other 3 countries, China, Russia and South Korea, have in some cases contrary goals to those of the United States. North Korea’s July 4th missile gambit exposed some of these deep divisions. One rather clear example of the divisions that exist was South Korea’s reaction to Japan’s threat of a pre-emptive strike on North Korea:
South Korea "will strongly react to the Japanese political leaders’ arrogance and outrageous rhetoric that further intensifies the crisis on the Korean Peninsula with dangerous and provocative rhetoric such as ‘pre-emptive strike,"’ Jung said.
The spokesman also accused the Japanese of using the missile tests as "a pretext for becoming a military power."
Jung said the Japanese remarks expose Tokyo’s tendency for aggression, noting Japan used the protection of its nationals on the Korean Peninsula as an excuse for past invasions. The Korean Peninsula was ruled by Japan as a colony from 1910 to 1945.
While the Bush Administration does its best to do nothing, North Korea continues on its march to becoming a regional nuclear power.
Mr. Bush has famously said that he does not do nuance. Diplomacy however is all about nuance. Instead, Mr. Bush has relied on his Doctrine of Preemption to counter threats to the security of the United States. However, as Iraq has rather amply demonstrated, Mr. Bush’s doctrine has been a spectacular failure. The consequence of this grand failure has emboldened adversaries such as North Korea. American diplomacy is at its weakest since World War II and the whole world has taken notice. Mr. Bush has no policy and very few options with regard to North Korea. A toothless UN Security Council resolution is the best American diplomacy can buy these days.
So, while Mr. Bush wonders what the Dear Leader is thinking, North Korea continues to gate crash the Nuclear Club.
[Crossposted at Taylor Marsh]