ZenPundit
Monday, September 19, 2005
 
NORTH KOREAN NUCLEAR DEAL: PARSING THE PUZZLE OF PYONGYANG (UPDATED)

I'll begin this post by wishing I had some better information, though the report today that the DPRK is already trying to hedge on the recently announced breakthrough indicates that the U.S. may have received at least as good as it gave. My second comment is that all the bloggers who are running around trying to figure out if this deal is good or bad for George W. Bush ought to be considering if it is good or bad for the United States.

Why the sudden deal ? I can only offer speculation:

First, after juggling two rogue proliferators while still engaged in Iraq, the Bush administration decided to cut a deal with whichever party was willing to" pull a Libya" so as to focus hardline attention on the remaining holdout. The essence of strategic thinking is making choices. We cannot deal with Iraq, Iran and North Korea all at once and expect the situation to improve in our favored direction. That's simply a fact and neither wishing nor bluster is going to change it.

The DPRK is a ghoulish regime and morally it is far worse than Iran. It's capacity for making mischief for American interests though is less by virtue of geography, ideology and culture. Iran on the other hand, is actively making mischief in Iraq ( though not as much as they could) and is well-placed by geography, population, religion, ideology and oil to cause far more. Added to that is Iran's intransigence in the face of EU entreaties, armed with carrots to cut a reasonable deal on nuclear tech with the IAEA followed by what is probably one of the most diplomatically inept speeches given at the UN since Khrushchev banged his shoe.

Iran's newly elected hardline Islamist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad probably intended this move both to solidify Iran's limited support in the Muslim world and to force the Bush administration to engage Iran as a diplomatic high priority. Well, I think he succeeded - just not in a way he intended while underscoring how little Teheran's rulers understand the United States and still less the Bush administration. Kim Jong-Il was wiser; he did not read the recent changes in American nuclear doctrine as either coincidence or bluff or that a lack of any capacity to definitively resolve the outcome of major military attack would prevent the United States from launching one.

People were taken aback by the Six Party talks announcement because diplomacy was working - quietly, behind he scenes - as it should. Negotiations in public through loud statements indicate that no real negotiations are taking place in private. Something was offered in seriousness to bring the DPRK back to the table and China - whose President Hu held high-level talks with President Bush - is neither prepared to pay the freight on North Korea's impending famine or back them if Pyongyang provokes a war or full-scale Japanese rearmament by testing a nuclear weapon. A deal was sealed most likely at this time between Beijing and Washington.

You don't merely play against the other player, you play against the scenario as well. And Iran may have just lost.

UPDATE:

Nadezhda of Chez Nadezhda/LAT has excellent counterarguments in the comment section, plus a post here. Other bloggers that have intelligently posted on the North Korean nuclear deal can be found below:

CKR of Whirledview
Thomas P.M. Barnett
Caerdroia
Arms Control Wonk also here.
Simon World - strong on Chinese angle.
Coming Anarchy
NKZone
Asiapundit
Conjectures& Refutations - Iranian nuke program
Kevin Drum
The Useless Tree
 
Comments:
Not so fast again, Mark. Pincus has reported in a follow-up article Monday that the Pentagon is backtracking on that proposed nuclear doctrine draft. And understandably so. I just wrote a long post on one angle of the topic you might find of interest.

On the broader issue of WMD diplomacy, I found Bruce Jettleson's long post today at TPMCafe quite a useful way of addressing the various pieces that are involved in "pulling a Libya." It draws on his article that will appear in Int'l Security (pdf link in the post).

As for the effect of the draft revised nuclear doctrine on diplomatic efforts with N Korean and/or Iran. I found the proposed new approach distinctly unhelpful. It really didn't raise the ante any more than previously for the North Koreans. And the US has some quite notable constraints to taking on Iran anytime soon, given the mess in Iraq.

More generally, explict doctrinal changes don't make smaller states less likely to give up their weapons. Rather, since it generally lowers the bar to nuclear use, US threats just reinforce the desire of states that have difficulties with the US to accelerate their weapons programs. That's the ultimate lesson they learned from Saddam -- he didn't have a nuclear deterrent.

As for how the proposed doctrinal revision plays in the whole IAEA/Security Council gavotte with Iran, two thoughts. Yes, the Iranian president made the US/EU case easier with his gonzo speech. But the US refusing to take the NPT seriously -- both in May and in the negotiations at the UN Summit -- and the draft doctrine make things more difficult at the IAEA.

The argument of the non-aligned countries is that the NPT is based on a core bargain -- disarmament by the big guys in return for non-proliferation commitments by the little guys. Explicit threats by the US to use nuclear weapons preemptively, especially in a battlefield context, just reinforces the non-aligned case against the various non-proliferation policies the US has been pursuing outside the NPT. They may not like what Iran's been up to, but they don't have much sympathy for the US position. They are increasingly looking to nuclear power to deal with their energy needs for the future. And they don't like the US dictating the whole nuclear scenario -- both weapons and energy.

As for how the voting will go, the last I heard, one possible tactic at the IAEA is for the NAM countries to abstain so that Iran can be referred to the Security Council but so they aren't on the record endorsing the move. Sensitive about the precedent.
 
For some detailed "inside baseball," take a look at Chris Nelson's take, posted by Ivo Daalder.

And to clarify one point in my previous comment. I don't think the draft doctrine is particularly relevant for either N Korean or Iranian attitudes/behavior in the current diplomatic games. I do think it was unhelpful re dealing with Iran in the IAEA.
 
Iran will continue to do it's thing, i.e. develop nuclear weapons, regardless of any diplomatic manuevers. They see conflict with the U.S. as increasing the popularity of the "hard-liners."
There is only one thing that will yield a change in the attitude of the Iranian government and that is a large scale attack on their oil infrastructure. Forget targeting nuclear sites, it is much easier and much more effective to target their economy. They believe, correctly I might add, that they can do whatever they want since they have the oil and we need it. Only if we demonstrate that we are willing to "bite the bullet" and suffer the large economic pain of a complete withdrawal of Iranian oil from the world market will they consider alternative paths.

Barnabus
 
Hey Nad,

Much thanks for the links BTW.

The U.S. stopped taking the NPT seriously because as currently constituted it is a vehicle for nuclear weapons proliferation. Getting even somewhat effective IAEA inspections, in the case of Iraq and Iran, required instituting procedures *outside* of the NPT - and even these were not enough.

Moreover, if your logic followed, the time for non-nuclear states to have moved forward aggressively to acquire nukes was during the Cold War when U.S.-Soviet stockpiles were enormous - not after American and Russian nuclear arsenals have been slashed. Since 1987 both states have made significant strides toward disarmament - the same period when proliferation problems became acute.

The NPT is not simply about disarmament, it is about sharing nuclear technology for peaceful purposes in return for *not* pursuing weapons programs. A breach of faith committed by Iraq, North Korea and Iran alike in order to gain critical know-how and technology under false pretenses ( or dual pretenses).

That the U.S. should try to remediate this situation is something no one should feel surprised about - certainly, the regimes involved understood that their programs were risky which is why they strove to enshroud them in secrecy. They knew the U.S. using force to intedict the WMD programs was always a possibility as far back as the Osirak raid.

The effectiveness of the nuclear doctrine discussion is debatable, not having much access to the inner councils of Teheran and Pyongyang. They were the loud and clear targets of that message, obviously, and the Pentagon pulling back doctrinally could just as easily be another diplomatic signal.
 
You raise a number of points that I either disagree with or we're talking a bit past each other. So here's an attempt to clarify a bit what I was trying to say.

Far be it from me to criticize the US for being concerned about N Korea and Iran, nor for working both within and outside the IAEA framework to deal with those two countries. As you note, both countries have long understood that the US (and for that matter most of the rest of the world) would oppose their acquisition of nuclear weapons. And they've understood that the US has a wide range of potential responses, including the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in a crisis. I am, however, suggesting that the process of pursuing US interests isn't aided by the US loudly sending signals that it is reducing the bar for nuclear use.

'Fraid I don't understand your logic that says my logic is illogical. :) I think it's pretty straightforward why a lower threshold for the US possibly using nuclear weapons is more likely to encourage rather than discourage proliferation. It's not the number of nukes that is important for a country like Iran. It's the US posture re using them.

During the Cold War, countries like Iran were insulated from the threat of the US taking direct action to change their regimes, whether via conventional or nuclear force. The US demonstrably no longer suffers under Cold War inhibitions -- hence, the growing interest in deterrents against US action, whether those be high-tech nuclear weapons or low-tech insurgency/terrorism.

There are arguments pro and con re a more theater or battlefield approach to operationalizing nuclear weapons. Personally, I think the "cons" have it by a wide margin. But in this instance all I'm saying is that, on the "con" side of the ledger, it is likely to encourage proliferation. You may think the "pros" outweigh the "cons" but you can't ignore the "cons."

Now as for the NPT itself. I think it's pretty clear that the grand bargain needs to be revisited. It's getting pretty tattered. I have considerable sympathy for the US wanting to pursue non-proliferation initiatives that aren't exclusively within the NPT framework. That's especially the case when the aim is to inhibit trafficking. Flexible "coalitions of the willing" can readily be linked to other inter-state collaboration on police work, intel and interdiction efforts. But there remains the need for more formal and intrusive verification -- and for that you need the IAEA. And that means working to strengthen, not undermine, the NPT or a successor regime.

That brings us to where the NPT is going. The NPT grand bargain is three pillars, not two. It's not just for the non-major nuclear powers to accept "non-proliferation" in return for "peaceful use of nuclear energy". There's the disarmament pillar as well, which the Bolton-wing of the national security establishment has chosen to ignore. Unfortunately, neither the US nor the IAEA will make significant progress on establishing workable non-proliferation controls over future nuclear energy development unless disarmament becomes part of the equation. And btw that applies not just to the US but to other nuclear powers such as the UK, France and Russia. They've not had a clear workable view on where the NPT should be headed and how disarmament fits into the picture.

"Disarmament" in today's world isn't a matter simply of reducing numbers. It's far more a matter of weapon usability as the weapons themselves. In the post-Cold War era, the issue for the countries without nuclear weapons turns on likelihood of use, not the simple number of weapons or yield or throw-weight. Similarly, the Pentagon's proposed doctrinal innovations weren't that they introduced the possibility of using nuclear weapons for preemption -- the US has always refused to accept "no first use." The Pentagon's innovation was the proposed further operational integration of nuclear and conventional weapons in a fashion that suggests planners and warfighters increasingly blur the distinction. That blurring may be very attractive to a commander who is responsible for fighting a particular conflict -- the desire to have all the firepower possible at one's disposal is clearly understandable. But that bit of apparent warfighting advantage has to be weighed within the broader framework of the US' strategic non-proliferation goals -- whether the concern is rogue states or terrorists.

The new reality of what "disarmament" means is why even US conservatives like Rep Hudson have been so opposed to developing new, more-usable nukes like the bunker buster. And why they find some of the suggestions in the Pentagon's draft doctrine so troubling and short-sighted.
 
Oops, typo. That should be Rep. David L. Hobson (R-Ohio), not Hudson.
 
Hello again Nad,

You are quite correct that the nuclear preemption position comes with some significant spillover costs. Ideally, which is to say this most likely did not happen, the Bush administtration should have reassured allies and major partners regarding the very narrow parameters of such a policy. Or the willingness to back away in the interest of getting an NPT or other anti-proliferation process with real teeth.

You are an impressively knowledgeable and elegant writer Nad but your argument's logic fails in my view because one of your major premises is mistaken. You wrote:

"During the Cold War, countries like Iran were insulated from the threat of the US taking direct action to change their regimes, whether via conventional or nuclear force"

I think you are misreading the brief period when MAD was dominant as the operative doctrinal paradigm for the Cold War itself. That was really the exception, not the rule, for the Cold War. Even for this period it really applied only to Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe.

The U.S. threatened, explicitly or by implication, to use nuclear weapons in 1946 (Iran), 1953(Korea),the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1968( Ussuri River/Damanskii Island Sino-Soviet clash) and 1973 ( Yom Kippur War).

Additionally, Ike considered and rejected the use of nukes on several other occasions, notably the French request during Dien Bien Phu and one lunatic idea to nuke the moon after sputnik.

We also intervened numerous time to affect,assist or accept regime change ( not always successfully) in Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, Ghana, Congo, Indonesia, Chile, Cambodia, Grenada, Nicaragua and Afghanistan.
I'm sure I'm foregetting quite a few others - incidentally, there were sound strategic and sometimes even moral reasons for intervention, in my view.

I would also add that while I agree with you that the Cold War dynamic inhibited proliferaton - it was more because the superpowers leaned heavily on their own clients to behave and tightly controlled the diffusion of nuclear and other WMD technology. Even a lot of basically commercial but still dual-use material was subject to COCOM controls.

COCOM, like the Cold War is history. Globalization reigns and this has helped speed proliferation more than nuances of U.S. nuclear doctrine ever could
 
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