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Monday, December 22, 2008

Pyongyang Mystery

Talleyrand is surprised to find so little being reported about the apparent failure of the North Korean disarmament negotiations. After having been touted as a triumph of patient diplomacy, the deal seems to have foundered over the issue of verification. This represents a sad disappointment for George W. Bush especially, because the deal had been touted, with the partial exception of Libya, as his only major diplomatic achievement in the field of disarmament—one he evidently cared so much about that it underwrote his decision to invade and occupy another country.

Korea was spared this indignity; so why are they now being so obstructive? Given the rumors of Kim Jong Il’s ill health, it is perhaps the case that nobody is really in charge, hence the stalled negotiations. Or, the Koreans may be unwilling to sign a deal with a lame duck Bush administration, perhaps anticipating better fortune come January.

They are unlikely to be so foolish. Bush has pursued the deal with a determination—some would say desperation—that will not last, no matter how much Obama seeks to preserve continuity in this area. And ever since Nixon went to China, it has been Democratic administrations which have been the more hawkish, at least in Asia, and generally friendlier toward Japan, whose relations with the Koreans at this point in time are at their worst in decades. Finally, an accommodationist critique from the Right is almost inevitable to emerge during the course of the Obama administration. The last thing he will want on his plate is an imperfect deal on verification in Korea, no matter how much of it was negotiated on Bush’s watch.

One has to wonder, then, if the North Koreans have some other plan up their sleeve…


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