Triumph of U.S./Multilateral Diplomacy

The six party agreement re North Korea is a technically virtuoso performance. Having Russia, China, Japan & South Korea all involved will create a more stable agreement. Working with coalitions is always harder, but the results - if you can achieve them - tend to be more durable. The biggest threat to success is serially unreliable North Korea itself.

The Chinese announced the agreement. This was a masterstroke since it emphasizes that this is NOT an agreement between the U.S. and North Korea and if the North Koreans backslide, it will be the Chinese who lose the most face. This kind of thing is important to the Chinese and since they have more leverage over the Kim Jong-il's hermit kingdom than anybody else, it is good for them to have a little skin in the deal.

This does not mean it is over. The White House calls it an important first step and that is a good characterization. The North Koreans live in an alternate reality and nobody has been able to predict their behavior with any certainty.

Some people like John Bolton have criticized the agreement. Generally, in fact conservative analysts (and here) do not like the agreement. They believe that Russia and China will be lax on enforcement and nobody trusts the North Koreans. They are probably right.

I also do not trust the North Koreans. They will certainly try to cheat and probably will succeed. This agreement is not so different from the one President Carter negotiated with them except in one very crucial respect. This is NOT an agreement between the U.S and North Korea. Kim will have a much harder time playing the American card. The Administration has wisely banged the ball back into the six party court every time Kim has tried to land in on us.

Little tyrants (and they all seem to be little: Kim, Hugo, Ahmadinejad) like to stand on their hind legs against the U.S. It is much less fun for Kim to stand up to China.

Ironically, Kim’s greatest strength is his weakness. What can you do with a guy like that? North Korea is close to collapse (it is hard to believe that in pre-communist times the North was the richer half of Korea). People are starving. The world community cares more about the Korean people than does Kim himself. They are his pawns. A collapse would set loose a wave of refugees and instability that would wash up in China, South Korea and the whole region. That is why both South Korea and China want to keep such a horrible regime on life support and it makes a lot of sense IF the current agreement slows down the collapse in such a way as to allow adjustment and adaptation. If we delay long enough it may well just become a problem for the Chinese.

Diplomacy is often about managing decline. When diplomacy fails, as in the case of the Hapsburg Empires & Ottoman Empires, or more recently Yugoslavia, we get wars both great and small. When it works, we get implosion and absorption such as East Germany. As backward as East Germany was compared to the West, North Korea is many times worse in relation to South Korea. (Both Germany and Korea were real life experiments about the value of communism versus the free market). Despite the difficulty, the best we can hope for is a German style absorption. This is not possible now, but it may become possible in a few years.

That is why I like the agreement. I do not trust the North Koreans and I figure the Chinese and Russians will be perfidious, but an agreement that buys us time is good.

Posted by Jack at February 13, 2007 4:25 PM
Comments
Comment #207904

I have always been a bit suprised that the Chinese don’t “arrange” for Kim to die from a heart attack and replace him with a puppet. I would think even they would get nervous that Crazy Kim will start a local nuclear conflict.

As for the deal its damned if you do and damned if you don’t. On the whole I would vote no since no one will really be enforcing this deal regardless of what we are told.

Posted by: Carnak at February 13, 2007 5:04 PM
Comment #207905

Seeing as how they came crawling back to the negotiating table, I really hope we negotiate with them in such a way as to ensure our interests. The dumbest thing we could do at this point is give them everything they want. There is a reason we played hard-ball…so we could keep the upper hand.

Carnak-

I agree about the catch-22.

Posted by: Kevin23 at February 13, 2007 5:09 PM
Comment #207909
I have always been a bit suprised that the Chinese don’t “arrange” for Kim to die from a heart attack and replace him with a puppet.

You’re assuming that Kim isn’t their puppet already? He seems to have gotten the US up in arms and made China a ‘saving force’ in the region…

Posted by: Rhinehold at February 13, 2007 5:42 PM
Comment #207912

Carnak, you are surprised because that is what the U.S. would do.

China operates differently, and do not be surprised if its method yields better results (for them at any rate).

Posted by: Zeek at February 13, 2007 6:19 PM
Comment #207916

The same approach should have been initiated with Iraq. The same approach NOW needs to acquire the full support of America toward Iran. Which means talking to them. We may have to wait for a President who doesn’t rely on Dick Cheney to tell them what to say, for that to happen, however.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 13, 2007 6:34 PM
Comment #207929

China plays the long game. I wonder what they got in exchange for their help. Iragi oil perhaps?More leaverage on Taiwan?Another relevant point. Korea is a buffer state for China. They will always be involved. For that same reason we should have expected an invasion from them during the K.Conflict.

HEADLINE: BUSH DOES SOMETHING NOT STUPID!

There Jack.Happy now?

Posted by: BillS at February 13, 2007 7:42 PM
Comment #207934
The same approach should have been initiated with Iraq.

This approach WAS tried with Iraq, with UN support, for over a decade. It did not work, Saddam still blocked attempts to verify the state of their Biological, Nuclear as well as conventional programs and inspection teams.

I wish it had worked, I wish Bush I, Clinton and Bush Jr had been able to drive them to a peaceful solution. But unfortunately they were unable to… When we did try to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people that the sanctions were creating, Saddam used that program to further his own influence and divert funds to terror groups. Meanwhile his people starved and died.

Posted by: Rhinehold at February 13, 2007 7:56 PM
Comment #207950

Rhinehold, wrong. The U.S. made no attempts to get the Middle Eastern nations to take up the talks and negotiations with Saddam, making Iraq a regional problem. Instead, Bush wanted to make Iraq an American problem. He got his wish, in spades.

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 13, 2007 8:58 PM
Comment #207954

“HEADLINE: BUSH DOES SOMETHING NOT STUPID!”

Bill S.,

Thanks for that, but “it ain’t over ‘till it’s over”. Bush still has plenty of time to screw things up. Bush diplomacy since day one, er, uh…………OK, since 9-11, has been; “it’s my way or the highway”.

Think about the official statement: “it’s a step in the right direction”. What would be wrong with saying, “it’s a major step in the right direction”! Maybe even followed with, “we hope to work with North Korea to create a better Korean economy”!

Never mind, Putin says he loves what we’re doing! Our Secretary of Defense actually had to broach the subject of “detente” regarding Russia after Reagan won the cold war. How F@@@ed is that?

Yeah, it’s time to celebrate! Putin just told us our defense systems are worthless and he views us as a threat:

“Russian President heads to Saudi Arabia after accusing US of making world more dangerous place.”

http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=19515

I’m just “dumb-struck” that most Americans have no idea how much closer Bush & Co. have brought us to a real MAD event.

Posted by: KansasDem at February 13, 2007 9:11 PM
Comment #207957

David

The reason a reasonable person back in 2002 thought Iraq was a more urgent problem in than Korea was the Korea was surrounded by strong, stable (if not always friendly) states who could contain the problem and had incentive to do so. Beyond that, U.S. bases were well established very close the problem and the North Koreans had not invaded a neighbor for more than 50 years. Iraq had none of those characteristics (except the not always friendly part).

Which of those Iraqi neighbors would have had the influence that China has over N. Korea? North Korea is a loose and troublesome client of the Chinese. In fact, Saddam became a problem when he stopped being a Soviet client. For all their faults, the Soviets had been able to discipline him to some extent.

Posted by: Jack at February 13, 2007 9:34 PM
Comment #207958
Rhinehold, wrong. The U.S. made no attempts to get the Middle Eastern nations to take up the talks and negotiations with Saddam, making Iraq a regional problem. Instead, Bush wanted to make Iraq an American problem.

And they didn’t try this through the UN for 12 years before the invasion…?

History didn’t start in 2003.

Posted by: Rhinehold at February 13, 2007 9:38 PM
Comment #207973

I think we can all agree the UN is pretty ineffective. If you limit your approach of multi-lateral negotiations to the UN, you can guarantee yourself some fairly poor results.

So, as David pointed out, you should go directly to relevant countries. Which, as David again pointed out, did not happen with Iraq. A big name that got left out was Iran.

As such, you cannot claim that multi-lateralism fails based on evidence from Iraq, because that is simply not a case of effective negotiations.

Posted by: Zeek at February 13, 2007 10:52 PM
Comment #207975

So, what is the point of the UN then, Zeek? Is Iran not in the UN? Were these things not deliberated with them in the room?

Is this were Clinton and Bush failed, by not getting Iran involved then? Why wasn’t Iran included in the 1990s when the majority of the issue was created? Bush was able to get inspectors back into the country by threat of force but was unable to even then get full compliance with the requirements laid out. How long do we keep a country under the thumb of the UN before we either shit or get off of the pot? 15 years? 30?

How long has it been with Korea? Is Korea funding international terrorist organizations and directing their own terrorist groups? Would we have taken the same tact with them if they had been?

Lots of questions…

Posted by: Rhinehold at February 13, 2007 11:03 PM
Comment #207982

David,

Bush wanted to make Iraq an American problem. He got his wish, in spades.

You meant Bandar Bush of course, didn’t you?

Posted by: gergle at February 13, 2007 11:34 PM
Comment #207990

Kansas
You give Reagan too much credit for ending the cold war. A dramatic drop in oil prices was more responsible. They were bolstering a failing economy with oil revenues. When that was cut it fell apart. The same tactic would work again with despots all over the world including the Sauds. A full throttle national campaign to eliminate our imported oil consumption woould do the trick but our own would- be despots would not like much.

Posted by: BillS at February 14, 2007 12:12 AM
Comment #208009

Rhinehold said: “So, what is the point of the UN then, Zeek? Is Iran not in the UN? Were these things not deliberated with them in the room?”

Lest you forget, Iran was one of the 3 “Axes of Evil” defined publicly by President Bush. Doesn’t leave much room for cooperation from Iran now does it, Rhinehold?

Posted by: David R. Remer at February 14, 2007 1:59 AM
Comment #208014


So, basically we are back to where we were 6 years ago plus one nuclear weapon and another test coming soon. You got to hand it to George Bush, he sure can negotiate!

Posted by: jlw at February 14, 2007 3:14 AM
Comment #208023

President Ahmadinejad’s real views are summarized on this website: ahmadinejadquotes.blogspot.com

Posted by: Al at February 14, 2007 8:13 AM
Comment #208036

BillS

There is an interesting book called Reagan’s War. It details his plans to end communism. Prominent among the strategies was pushing down prices of gold and crude oil. Of course it is not possible to micromanage the market, but it is possible for a country as powerful as the U.S. to affect commodity prices like that in the long run.

I agree with you that we would be better served if the price of crude was much lower. Almost all the big crude oil exporters are nasty little despots or at best semi democracies. That is why it would be a good thing to tax crude. (Off hand, the only ones I can think of who are not are the Norwegians. Are the Dutch net exporters?)

Jlw

It is hard to make progress with the North Koreans, who are monotonously dishonest. The advantage this time is the involvement of the direct involvement of the Chinese and Russians. They have a lot more leverage on little Kim than we do.

There are no good options at this time, BTW, only bad and less bad.

Posted by: Jack at February 14, 2007 10:48 AM
Comment #208061

Al-

Are you sure that isn’t merely a collection of the most extreme things he has said in the last 10 years? Not exactly a complete “summary” then. Just cherry picking.

So, what is it you are really trying to say? He’s a bad guy? Then how about some useful information? Actions speak much louder than words in the Arab world where extreme rhetoric is a vital part of politics. I’m not defending his words, just putting this into the context of reality.

Posted by: Kevin23 at February 14, 2007 12:50 PM
Comment #208145

Rhinehold- “So, what is the point of the UN then, Zeek? Is Iran not in the UN? Were these things not deliberated with them in the room?”

Honestly, I do not care what the point of the UN is. I am saying we should ignore it because it gets countries that are not relevant to the issue involved.


“Is this were Clinton and Bush failed, by not getting Iran involved then?”

Yes.

Why wasn’t Iran included in the 1990s when the majority of the issue was created? Bush was able to get inspectors back into the country by threat of force but was unable to even then get full compliance with the requirements laid out.

Not quite sure what you are saying here. Clarify?

“How long do we keep a country under the thumb of the UN before we either shit or get off of the pot? 15 years? 30?”

We do not… what is this fixation with the UN you have?

“How long has it been with Korea? Is Korea funding international terrorist organizations and directing their own terrorist groups? Would we have taken the same tact with them if they had been?”

Whether it is harboring terrorists or not is irrelevant. Reducing terrorism world wide is a separate issue, we need to focus on Korea’s nuclear weapons program as a separate game. Unless you have some sort of reason to connect the two.

Posted by: Zeek at February 14, 2007 6:55 PM
Comment #208175

In an interview today on the News Hour Pelosi commended the President on the N.Korea accord. Nuff said.

Posted by: BillS at February 14, 2007 11:05 PM
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