Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Bilateral Talks with North Korea?

The past few days I have listened to discussions on the television, radio, internet, and in the press on the North Korean Nuclear weapon situation. To my (naive?) surprise the push is on on the left, by Democrats and among moderates and elitist Republicans, for bilateral talks with North Korea. This is odd for a few reasons, and a bad for a few more.

It is odd because the coalition in question is usually grumbling about bilateral talks by the US. They are usually demanding a multilateral solution. The whole point seems to be to disagree with the administration rather than to be principled.

The push for bilateral talks is also odd because there is no good reason for it. The only reason anyone seems to give for doing it is that the North Koreans want bilateral talks. The real foreign policy of the pro-bilateral coalition seems to be “just find out what the mad man wants and agree to give it to him!” That may be your best option with an armed mugger in the park, but you cannot run foreign policy that way. You may never see the mugger again, and the police may get the mugger. But Kim will still be here asking for the world, and there are (thankfully, since they would probably be staffed and led by rouge nations) no world police.

Bilateral talks are a bad idea because the North Koreans only want them so they can abuse us and lie to us without losing face with anyone whose opinion they care about. The six party format we have encouraged requires the North Korean delegation to behave like diplomats since China and South Korea are present. Six party talks also avoid silly demands for betrayals of our alies (“promise not to stop our invasion of South Korea and Japan and no one gets hurt.”) North Korea would use secret bilateral talks to sow suspicion and discord between the US and our alies (“Can you believe it ambassador, as soon as you were not there the Yankee bandits offered us the whole peninsula.”).

Bilateral talks are also a bad idea because the lend prestige to the North Koreans, and make it look like we are already deciding to appease them.

It is not good for North Korea to have nuclear weapons.

It is also delusional to think we can negotiate a just and reasonable treaty to get North Korea to give up nuclear weapons. Even if they promised to do so, exactly how would we be sure they had not kept a few nuclear weapons in some deep lead lined cavern?

But it is also clear we cannot lightly go to war with North Korea. Our current forces are tied up with the war on terror. Iran is still a growing threat. And, the North Koreans have the capacity to kill hundreds of thousands of South Koreans before the war is over. We would never be sure they would not seek revenge with a nuclear device at some time in the future. But then, we can no longer be sure they will not find a way to blow up an American city if we do not attack them either.

The North Korean nuclear problem is not a simple one. And the President is entitled to a little slack in dealing with it since there are no good options.

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