North Korea: Breakthrough or Deja Vu?

I hate to put a damper on the otherwise good news of North Korea reaching an agreement with the United States, but it seems rather like deja vu. Back in 1994 , we reached a similar agreement with North Korea, to provide them with two light-wateer nuclear reactors (that is, reactors that cannot be used to build a bomb) and 500,000 tonnes of fuel oil. 

That agreement went reasonably well until January of 2002, when George Bush put North Korea on the 'Axis of Evil'.  The entire agreement fell apart, with sins on both sides:  The US accused North Korea of developing a secret weapons program in October, which is entirely possible.  North Korea complained that the US had made very slow progress on the two nuclear reactors, which was also very true.  In November, the US cut fuel oil shipments to North Korea, and North Korea responded by restarting its nuclear program and kicking out inspectors.  However, the North Koreans have a point: back in January, the US violated at very least the spirit of the '94 agreement by putting North Korea on the Axis of Evil, which hardly conforms to the clause which read "The United States and North Korea committed to move toward normalizing economic and political relations, including by reducing barriers to investment, opening liaison offices, and ultimately exchanging ambassadors. "

Never one to change course when realizing his tough talk had gotten us in trouble, the Bush administration said in January of 2003 (a handy BBC timeline of the crisis from Oct. 2002 to the present can be found here), saying they would not "provide quid pro quos to North Korea to live up to its existing obligations".  Four years later we have this agreement, which essentially just trades two reactors for another 500,000 tonnes of fuel oil.  In the meantime, while we were being the 'bad cop', North Korea successfully tested a nuclear weapon, leading one to believe that they have built several in the absense of inspectors. 

There are some who would say that no matter what concessions our tough stance had gotten us, if it had given North Korea time to build and test a bomb, it wasn't worth it.   But I think we can all agree that the minimal changes between the two agreements were definately not worth that development.   And though hindsight is supposed to be 20/20, the foresight of those who grimaced to hear the president refer to nations as the "Axis of Evil" is looking pretty good, too. 

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The Polish Wolf

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