A Brief History of the Huge Mess in North Korea

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September 6, 2017
Joshua Pollack

The following op-ed is an excerpt from the New York Daily News.

President Trump set the tone for North Korea policy last Wednesday on Twitter, as he is wont to do, declaring that America “has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years. Talking is not the answer!” Spoiler alert: This tweet didn’t stop Kim Jong Un from appearing with a hydrogen bomb before North Korea conducted its biggest nuclear test by far.

Although Secretary of Defense James Mattis was quick to inject that “we’re never out of diplomatic solutions,” Trump’s position didn’t arrive out of the blue. It echoed comments that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivered back in March, as the administration’s North Korea policy review was coming to a close: “America has provided $1.3 billion in assistance to North Korea since 1995. In return, North Korea has detonated nuclear weapons, and dramatically increased its launches of ballistic missiles to threaten America and our allies.”

Let’s pause to consider just how wrong these statements are. The point isn’t to indulge in contrarianism, but to understand why policy on North Korea has been such a disaster. The reasons go beyond the almost comprehensively broken policy-making and communications of the new administration.

Indeed, the self-inflicted wounds started under George W. Bush, and it was during the Obama years that Washington enshrined its paralysis as a principle.

The record of American-North Korean diplomacy, and U.S. aid to North Korea, began in earnest in 1994, when the Clinton administration concluded a bargain called the “Agreed Framework.” North Korea mothballed its single plutonium-production reactor at Yongbyon and suspended the construction of two larger ones. Along with partners in an international consortium, the U.S. agreed to provide North Korea with new light-water reactors for electricity production. In the meantime, Washington supplied North Korea with shipments of heavy fuel oil. Humanitarian food aid started flowing in 1996.

Read the full op-ed at the New York Daily News

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