"North Korea Says It Has a Program on Nuclear Arms" -- New York
Times, Oct. 17, 2002.
President Bill Clinton will be remembered by history for only
one thing, which is a bit of a shame since his record is so thoroughly
shabby and dishonorable that it deserves closer study.
Clinton's contribution to our vulnerability to terror has been
well documented, and now comes news that another of his foreign policies has
come to fruition. The North Koreans have admitted what close observers have
suspected all along -- that they have a nuclear weapons program and may have
already produced a number of bombs. (Oh, and by the way, worshippers of arms
control treaties kindly note: North Korea is a signatory to the Nuclear
The only mystery is why Pyongyang has now chosen to admit it.
In the early 1990s, North Korea, even more than other communist
states, was drowning in the consequences of its system. People were
starving. A congressional study estimated that as many as 1 million died of
starvation by 1998. But the regime was no less belligerent for that.
Pyongyang continued to build up its military and was aggressively pursuing
nuclear capability. Though its facilities were supposed to be inspected by
the International Atomic Energy Agency, North Korea persistently delayed
inspections. Meanwhile, its aggressive posture and rhetoric toward South
Korea continued, as did its development of long-range missiles.
President Clinton, observing this situation, saw what needed to
be done: Pyongyang would have to be appeased. As former defense secretary
William Perry put it, the administration thought it "necessary to move
forward in a more positive way with North Korea." In exchange for a
temporary freeze on its nuclear program and a mere promise to refrain from
developing such weapons in the future, the Clinton administration extended
nearly $1 billion in foreign aid for food and fuel oil, as well as promising
to build two light water reactors for the North Koreans.
Certainly the administration must have attached conditions?
Surely it insisted that the regime provide proof that the aid was not being
used for military purposes, and it must have insisted on some form of
political and economic liberalization? The Clinton administration must have
tied this aid package to guarantees that the North Koreans would cease
exporting ballistic missiles to nations like Iran and Pakistan? Actually,
no. As Perry explained, "The policy team believed that the North Korean
regime would strongly resist such reform ..."
The North Koreans, rewarded for their belligerence, naturally
continued down the same path. (And the lesson was probably not lost on other
dangerous regimes that seeking nuclear weapons can bring goodies from
Washington.) In 1998, they tested a new, three-stage ballistic missile. Did
the Clinton administration at last learn the lesson that appeasement does
not work? Not quite. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and William Perry
held a press conference to announce that the United States was continuing to
pursue good relations with North Korea: "We must deal with the North Korean
government as it is, not as we wish it would be."
Accordingly, the Clinton administration proposed to lift
economic sanctions on North Korea if it promised -- but this time really,
sincerely promised -- to stop development of long-range missiles. The North
Korean government didn't even deign to respond for a full week -- but the
Clinton administration relaxed sanctions anyway.
The Clinton administration officials believed their policies
toward North Korea were a success. By "engaging" Pyongyang, they believed,
they had avoided war. Neville Chamberlain thought the same. Instead, the
appeasement merely emboldened the North Koreans. A Republican study group
concluded in 1999 that North Korea "is a greater threat to international
stability" than it had been five years before, "primarily in Asia and
secondarily in the Middle East." Is it conceivable that the Clinton foreign
policy team really believed North Korea could be bribed into decency?
Edmund Burke warned, "There is no safety for honest men but by
believing all possible evil of evil men." That includes assuming that they
will lie, cheat and betray. The liberal attachment to treaties is thus laid
bare for the chimera it is. When strength and resolve were required, Bill
Clinton supplied weakness and legerdemain. And in this, as in the war on
terror, he has bequeathed a more dangerous world to his successor.