Is it disconcerting to anyone else that 2 months after John Bolton leaves his post as Undersecretary of State for Disarmament and Nonproliferation Affairs that there was a break through in negotiations with North Korea on nuclear disarmament? Immediately after John Bolton took the position in 2001, relations began to sour and North Korea restarted its nuclear program. For the next 4 years, there was no progress made, in which time N.K. was able to unseal its plutonium program and enrich enough material for several more bombs. Many of the career diplomats engaged in the N.K. negotiations claimed that the only roadblock to a new deal was John Bolton himself. Now John Bolton is the U.N. representative for the United States. Something is wrong here.
I also want to take the time to deconstruct the recent break through with N.K. done by the Bush Administration. While I am glad Bolton is gone and were able to make progress, I also have to point out to the conservatives who are hailing Bush as a great savoir on this - we are worse off today than we were in in 1994 when Clinton signed a deal with Pyongyang. The only difference between now and then is that N.K. has more nuclear weapons while the Bush administration tried and failed at its hard line stance.
The history of the conflict is complex. Technically, we are still at war with North Korea even after hostilities ended in 1953. But to jump ahead in history - in 1994, Clinton signed a deal with Pyongyang to ends its nuclear weapons program. This called for N.K. to stop using its plutonium reactor and seal all of the used plutonium fuel that could be used in a nuclear bomb. In return, the U.S. would provide oil to N.K. and build a heavy water reactor for N.K. to replace the plutonium nuclear plant it was to close (heavy water reactors produce byproducts much more difficult to build bombs out of).
All went fairly well through 2001 when Bush ordered a re-evaluation of the N.K. deal and appointed John Bolton. In the wake of 9/11, the Bush administration decided to change course and take a hard line with N.K. Shortly after, the 1994 deal fell apart. John Bolton declared that the U.S. should make "it clear to the North that we are indifferent to whether we ever have 'normal' diplomatic relations with it, and that achieving that goal is entirely in their interests, not ours." The U.S. ceased sending oil to N.K. and stopped the plans for building of the heavy water reactor. Pyongyang unsealed the stored plutonium, kicked IAEA (International Atomic Enforcement Agency) inspectors out of the country, restarted its Plutonium enrichment program, and dropped out of the Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty.
In 2002, the Bush administration accused N.K. of also enriching Uranium in order to produce nuclear weapons. N.K. admitted to producing uranium tetrafluoride, which is used in one of their 5 megawatt electricity reactors. Uranium tetrafluoride is not weapons grade material. It can only be used for energy production. Uranium hexafluoride is the material used in nuclear weapons.
The Pyongyang wanted to re-enter disarmament talks, and so did Washington, but Bush predicated all talks on N.K. admitting that it was not only producing uranium tetrafluoride, but also uranium hexafluoride. It must be noted that hexafluoride can be made out of tetrafluoride, but to this day, there has been no evidence that hexafluoride has ever been produced. The vast majority of experts agree that N.K. does not have enough centrifuges and other equipment to produce hexafluoride, and Pyongyang has consistently denied producing any. We can monitor uranium production through the atmosphere, and while we have been able to confirm the production of the tetrafluoride, hexafluoride has never been detected. While N.K. may or may not have had plans for hexafluoride production in the future, it is unlikely that there was any current production.
So, basically, Bush's stance was that we would not deal with North Korea at unless they admitted to a hexafluoride program that we had no evidence of and they completely denied, even though N.K. would admit to all the other programs. It is like a Law & Order episode where the suspect is willing to admit to being a murderer, just not to the murder that the DA insists that he plead guilty to. We could have been making progress on resealing the plutonium that we knew N.K. was currently enriching to bomb grade material, but instead, we refused to deal with N.K. at all.
In the end, four years of a hard line stance, and the actions of John Bolton has put us in a worse position than we were in 2000. We have agreed to start shipping oil, again. We have agreed to build the heavy water reactor, again. The North Koreans will seal the plutonium, again. The only difference is that N.K. now has more nuclear weapons than it did prior to Bush taking office. How conservatives hail this as some enormous success is beyond me. It shows the ineptitude of the administration and of John Bolton to engage in effectual diplomacy. I have no doubt that N.K. is a dangerous rouge state. But four years of bungled policy towards N.K. should not be cheered, but jeered for taking so long to do what it should have done 4 years ago.
Foreign Affaris - Did North Korea Cheat? (Subscription needed)
Foreign Affaris - How to Deal With North Korea
Council on Foreign Relations - The North Korean Disarmament Talks
New powers of persuasion needed in North Korea talks
U.S. Department of State - U.S. DPRK Agreed Framework