Tuesday, April 26, 2005

There He Goes Again

Nick Kristof is back today ('North Korea, 6, and Bush, 0') and up to his usual tricks again. Once again, Mr. Know-It-All is critical of Bush's North Korean policy. He believes that Bush should be more accomodating to the mass murderer Kim Jong-Il. An excerpt:

Here's a foreign affairs quiz:

(1) How many nuclear weapons did North Korea produce in Bill Clinton's eight years of office?

(2) How many nuclear weapons has it produced so far in President Bush's four years in office?

The answer to the first question, by all accounts, is zero. The answer to the second is fuzzier, but about six.

The total will probably rise in coming months, for North Korea has shut down its Yongbyon reactor and says that it plans to extract the fuel rods from it. That will give it enough plutonium for two or three more weapons.

The single greatest failure of the Bush administration's foreign policy concerns North Korea. Mr. Bush's policies toward North Korea have backfired and led the North to churn out nuclear weapons, and they have also antagonized our allies and diminished America's stature in Asia.
As I have noted earlier in this blog, Kristof is wrong on virtually everything he writes about, and this topic is no exception. Mostly, he glosses over the enormous failures of Bill Clinton's North Korea policy and blames the ensuing mess on his successor, George W. Bush. But thanks to the power of the Internet and Google, we have access to the same source material as Kristof, and we can easily see that his statements are a series of half-truths, misinformation and conjecture.

Kristof: How many nuclear weapons did North Korea produce in Bill Clinton's eight years of office?
We don't know the exact answer. But the plutonium for the six bombs that Kristof refers to in his headline was produced during the 7-year operating cycle of the Yongbyun reactor, from 1987-1994. Bill Clinton was President during the last two calendar years of this cycle, a fact that Kristof conveniently neglects to mention. These nuclear fuel rods that the North Koreans were allowed to keep under the Clinton-negotiated Agreed Framework Treaty (1994) contained an estimated 17 to 40 kg. of weapons-grade plutonium.

Kristof: How many nuclear weapons has it produced so far in President Bush's four years in office?
Again, we don't know the exact answer. Depending on the efficiency of design, the plutonium mentioned earlier could yield anywhere from 2 to 10 bombs (the Nagasaki bomb contained 6 kg). Kristof's figure of 6 lies in the middle. Note here Kristof is inferring the existence of plutonium-based bombs only. He has left out the possibility of uranium-based weapons, about which we have little solid evidence (at least publically). GlobalSecurity.org reports:

As of February 2005 Defense Intelligence Agency analysts were reported to believe that North Korea may already have produced as many as 12 to 15 nuclear weapons. This would imply that by the end of 2004 North Korea had produced somewhere between four and eight uranium bombs [on top of the seven or eight plutonium bombs already on hand]. The DIA's estimate was at the high end of an intelligence community-wide assessment of North Korea's nuclear arsenal completed in early 2005.
Kristof then goes on to state as fact a speculative timeline on the North Korean nuclear program, while downplaying the possibility of a viable uranium-based weapons program.
Kristof: North Korea made one or two nuclear weapons around 1989, during the first Bush administration, but froze its plutonium program under the 1994 "Agreed Framework" with the Clinton administration. North Korea adhered to the freeze on plutonium production, but about 1999, it secretly started on a second nuclear route involving uranium. That was much less worrisome than the plutonium program (it still seems to be years from producing a single uranium weapon), and it probably could have been resolved through negotiation, as past crises had been.
The North Korean nuclear program is shrouded in secrecy and very little human intelligence is available. The CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency believes that they probably have produced nuclear material for one or two bombs sometime prior to 1992, before the first inspection of the Yongbyon reactor by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The real date is known only to a handful of North Koreans, of course, but somehow, Kristof dates the first North Korean nuclear weapons to 1989. Conveniently, this was at the start of Bush Senior's term in office.

As for the uranium-based program, GlobalSecurity.org reports:

Shortly after the signing of the 1994 accord, it is believed that North Korea began another clandestine program to enrich uranium and develop a uranium-based nuclear program. The evidence at first was faint and circumstantial. Western intelligence had "shards of evidence" of the North Korea-Pakistan nuclear relationship going back to 1997. These developed into clear suspicions by 1998, and by 1999 the North Koreans committed to this program.
From the Arms Control Association:

There are various U.S. government sources that provide clues as to when North Korea began its uranium-enrichment program, but disagreement among the sources makes it difficult to determine the exact start of the program. Most information, however, indicates it began between 1997 and 1999. Armitage has provided the earliest estimate of the program’s origin, testifying February 4 that the U.S. government noticed “some anomalies in [North Korean] procurement patterns” starting in 1994.

Secretary of State Colin Powell stated during a March 26 hearing before the House Appropriations Committee that North Korea started the program to enrich uranium “before the ink was dry” on the 1994 Agreed Framework.
So it appears that US intelligence sources can place the start of North Korea's uranium program to as early as 1994--in the middle of Clinton's tenure--and some DIA analysts think that the North Koreans have already produced uranium-based bombs. All of this took place while we were in the process of signing a treaty focusing on the plutonium-based weapons program.

Kristof : Instead, Mr. Bush refused to negotiate bilaterally, so now we have the worst of both worlds: that uranium program is still in place, and the plutonium program is churning out weapons material as well.
When dealing with North Korea, "unilateral" US actions become 'bilateral" if it means negotiating directly with North Korea and leaving out allies Japan and South Korea, as well as next-door neighbors China and Russia. But when the US invades Iraq with our British and Austrailan allies, "multilateral" action becomes "unilateral" because it leaves out the French and the Germans. Ah, the word games of a liberal!
Kristof : Selig Harrison, an American scholar just back from Pyongyang, says North Korean officials told him that in direct negotiations with the U.S., they would be willing to discuss a return to their plutonium freeze. Everything would depend on the details, including verification, but why are we refusing so adamantly even to explore this possibility?
A freeze might make a good story on the CBS Evening News, but it is strategically useless. First of all, the proposed plutonium "freeze" would presumably leave the 6 existing nukes, by Kristof's count, in the hands of North Korea. Conveniently, Kristof has also forgotten about the "one or two nuclear weapons" produced prior to 1994 that he mentions earlier.

Equally as important, the freeze proposed by Kristof and Selig Harrison ignores the possibility that North Korea has the capability to produce uranium-based bombs. Kristof may act like he knows the state of their uranium program ("it still seems to be years from producing a single uranium weapon"), but he's really doesn't know much more than you or me. With a plutonium freeze in place, North Korea still would be free to produce uranium-based bombs ad infinitum. And any of the nukes that North Koreans might have now or build using uranium could be sold to terrorists, even with the resumption of the 1994 Agreed Framework freeze.

It must be recognized that the disarming North Korea of nuclear weapons should be the ultimate goal of US policy. A freeze takes us nowhere near that goal, for it continues to leave us vulnerable to nuclear terrorism and even worse, open to yet another round of blackmail as we pursue eventual disarmament. In the latest developments, North Korea has refused to come back to the multilateral bargaining table since June 2004, and it now appears likely that they will never return.
Kristof : North Korea is the most odious country in the world today. It has been caught counterfeiting U.S. dollars and smuggling drugs, and prisoners have been led along with wire threaded through their collarbones so they can't run away. While some two million North Koreans were starving to death in the late 1990's, Mr. Kim spent $2.6 million on Swiss watches. He's the kind of man who, when he didn't like a haircut once, executed the barber.
I ask you--given what we know about Kim--why we should negotiate with a modern-day Caligula and trust him to keep his promises? Then again, why would anyone with a gram of common sense listen to Nick Kristof?

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