Not a Cowboy. A Posse.

Why Kerry is wrong on ‘bilateral talks’ with North Korea

Frank Warner has a great article up on the North Korea issue. You know, the issue where Bush is supposed to act unilaterally. Now, I understand some folks’ outcry for the US to take the lead, given the United Nations fifty years of shameful behavior. And, at some point, we might have to go it alone with only six or seven allies.

But today, multilateral is the way to approach the Korean peninsula. Despite charter membership in the “Axis of Evil”, the DPRK is really nothing more than a tangent, at best, of our World War 4 enemy. And we are right for not approaching them the way we approached, for instance, Iraq.

Bush insisted that China, Russia, Japan and, of course, South Korea be included in the talks over North Korea’s illegal nuclear weapons program.

With all these nations negotiating, each one stakes its political credibility on an acceptable outcome. And if the talks break down, five major powers – not just one – can go together to the United Nations to make the case for a world response.

China, which shares a border with North Korea, has the leverage to persuade the tyrannical “Dear Leader” to do almost anything. To a lesser degree, so does Russia, with its port of Vladivostok just a short-range missile away.

And throughout the talks, Japan need only keep a poker face. Let China guess whether Japan would seriously consider nuclear weapons of its own.

Meanwhile, South Korea finally is awakening to the threat in the North. For years, large numbers of South Koreans had been deceiving themselves into believing the U.S. had troops in South Korea because the Americans wanted to be there. The South felt that complacent about the North.

Bush changed that soft thinking by announcing he was withdrawing about a third of the 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea. Suddenly, the South Koreans realized they might have to defend themselves from Kim Jong-Il. Bush’s troop reduction also had the helpful effect of undermining Kim’s claim that the U.S. was about to attack him.

It seems to me that, despite the frustrating pace of things, our approach to North Korea has been pretty solid.

If we negotiated with them on our own, we would lack the leverage to do anything other than threaten military action. That card’s not off the table, of course, but there are a lot of hands to play before we need consider it. With Russia and China (UN Security Council members) part of our coalition, and with Japan and South Korea (economic powers) standing with us, we have leverage.

Without leverage you do things like promise Kim Jong-Il money and food and oil and stuff if he gives his word not to be bad. Then you hope and pray that the bad guy turns over a new leaf.

Second verse, same as the first.

About ten years later you’re back at the same table making the same deals.

It’s just a theory of mine, of course. Maybe if we unilaterally cut a deal with the DPRK they’ll play ball. If only we had a precedent that might indicate how such a deal might turn out.

But instead of playing cowboy like some suggest, we’re approaching North Korea with a group of like-minded allies.

Go read Frank’s post. And bookmark him while you’re at it.


  1. Isn’t North Korea selling some pretty good missiles to whoever wants them? Doesn’t that put them right in there rather than’ a tangent, at best, of our World War 4 enemy’? If Saddam having missiles – or wanting to – and nuclear weapons – or wanting them – made Iraq a target for attack as central to the war on terror, why is NK irrelevant?

  2. Well, I didn’t say North Korea was ‘irrelevant’. I said that they were not part of our core opponents in what I call the Fourth World War. The common thread of Islamic extremism does not reach directly into North Korea. The missiles and the nuclear program are why we are at the table with them. But their geographic location and the standing of the nations surrounding the DPRK makes it a far, far different situation than Iraq. Iraq is the central nation in the central region of the problem. North Korea is out on their own. We cannot ignore them, and we aren’t, but the situation there isn’t nearly as threatening as the Middle East is. For previous MO rumblings on the Iraq-DPRK comparison, including my thoughts on the missiles in North Korea vs. WMDs in Iraq argument, see Iraq is the central front in the War on Terror. It’s geographically indisputable. The DPRK is on the periphery of this war. For now anyway.