Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Bush's Pyongyang policy 'futile' - Robert Gallucci, Clinton era negotiator

There's an interesting if mixed BBC article here, reporting an interview with Gallucci, who was a state department ambassador-at-large, assigned to North Korean relations from 1993* and therefore the primary negotiator for the US in the aftermath of the 1994 crisis in which the US nearly launched an attack on North Korea:
Ambassador Gallucci was the architect of former US President Bill Clinton's administration's policy which persuaded Pyongyang to freeze its weapons programme in return for the provision of power generating reactors.

But this deal collapsed, in large part due to North Korea's actions.

But Ambassador Gallucci says that since then there has been no coherent strategy from the Bush administration in Washington.

Tensions between the State Department, on the one hand, and the Pentagon and the vice president's office, on the other, have hobbled US policy, leading to what he called the most distant of negotiations between the US and North Korea.

There are important omissions and misrepresentations in the BBC article:

1) the 1994 crisis is not mentioned, nor how close the US came to attacking North Korea. Straight into the memory hole.

2) the claim that the deal with North Korea collapsed "in large part due to North Korea's actions" ignores the fact, acknowledged by Gallucci elsewhere (see the end of this post), that the US didn't fully comply with the deal. Respectable academics specialising in the region think that the US administration decided not to keep their side of the bargain because they thought that the North Korean regime would fall before the US had to build the power plants that they had agreed to. Also into the memory hole.

3) the blatant one-sided editorialising: 'Dealing with North Korea is one of the most intractable problems facing any US administration.' Perhaps so, although they at least have the option of a strategic withdrawal - North Korea poses no threat to the US. On the other hand, it is unarguable that dealing with the US is one of the most intractable problems facing any North Korean administration, but the writer feels no need to say this. And there's no discussion of the problems faced by the general population of the Korean peninsula, who continue to live in highly militarised societies, with the real threat of nuclear war, and divided families and communities.

Extract from 2003 PBS interview with Gallucci, in which he admits that the North Korean government kept to the framework, and the US breached the agreement in ways he considers minor.
There are those now who have come forward from the Clinton administration, saying that the deal was basically abandoned by the United States. That's perhaps too strong, but that there was a lack of political will to enforce the Agreed Framework, that in fact, the complaints coming from North Korea that the United States dragged its feet and reneged have some validity.

My own view here is -- and there are disagreements about this -- that in the Clinton administration, there wasn't the enthusiasm for everything the North Koreans wanted, in terms of the political payoff from the deal. So the North Koreans were somewhat disappointed. But let's be clear about this. There are hard and soft portions to deal. A hard portion was they needed to have their program frozen, and under inspection, and they needed to re-can the spent fuel so it wasn't reprocessed. That was done.

Did they hold to their end of the agreement in that sense?

Absolutely. Absolutely. On our side, in terms of the hard part, so did we. We were obligated to create an entity called the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, an international entity -- which was really South Korea, Japan and the United States, and eventually, the European Union -- to build these 2,000-megawatt light-water reactors. That program didn't go as fast as the North Koreans might have liked. But it's a big deal doing that in North Korea. That was a hard point in terms of the deal, and we were doing that.

We also had to deliver a quantity every year of something called heavy fuel oil to provide energy replacement for what they were giving up with not having their own nuclear facilities. Did we meet every delivery schedule on the day? No. Did we generally meet the schedule, and were we generally providing what we said we'd provide? Yes. So in terms of the hard performance under the framework, both sides were doing it.

* These details are from a previous PBS interview, from 1996, as Galluci was preparing to retire.


Nick said...

Very informative and valuable. I think it's extremely worthwhile to point out this sort of misrepresentation and omission, especially for one whose background knowledge is slight, as my own is.

nick said...

Thanks for the comment, Nick

(For anyone else who's reading this, I should point out that the Nick who left the previous comment is not the Nick who writes the posts on this blog. That's me - the post-writer, I mean.)

For background on Korea, I can't recommend anything more highly than Bruce Cumings' Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History.
As Chalmers Johnson said, "Bruce Cumings is America's leading historian and political analyst of contemporary Korea. ... a sophisticated analysis of the Korean Civil War and of South Korea's economic ascent... He also refocuses attention on Korea as one of the world's distinctive civilisations, not some amalgam of Chinese and Japanese cultures... This is the single best book anyone today can read on Korea."
(For those who haven't heard of Chalmers Johnson, one could say the same about him, with respect to Japan, as he says about Bruce Cumings and Korea.)
Cumings' work is a pleasure to read, with the virtues of the best academic writing - literate, balanced and accessible. Watch out, though, for his love of provocation (easy for me to diagnose, since I share the fault), mainly aimed at right-wingers and traditionalist historians. And skip lightly over the occasional definitional debates and odd forays into post-something-or-other discourse: they are short and the rest of his writing is superb.

Nick A (to avoid confusion)