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The North Korean Deception - October 20, 2002

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

President Bush has been severely criticized by the Europeans and leftist sympathizers in the U.S. for using terms such as "evildoers" and "axis of evil" in describing our adversaries. But after a French tanker is struck by an explosive-laden boat in a Yemen harbor, a Marine is slain in Kuwait, hundreds of young civilians are murdered in Bali and a bus is bombed out in Manila, the president's words are truly haunting.

Just as the world is waking up to the realities of evil, along comes North Korea to affirm its membership in the circle of dangerous nations. North Korea's shameless admission of a willful breach of an international agreement bolsters other assertions made by the president. And it sheds some light on the relationship between inspections and disarmament.

The recent debate over what to do about Iraq involved questions about whether Iraq's compliance with the required disarmament could actually be assured with inspections. Much like Iraq, North Korea lied to the world about the very existence of the weapons it promised to avoid. The bottom line is that certain regimes cannot be trusted to keep their promises, and any diplomacy with them must look at this premise as fact.

It also appears as though satellite and electronic eavesdropping was incapable of conclusively determining North Korea's treachery. Yet virtually all of those who were well-informed knew that the North Koreans were likely to breach their promises almost immediately after making them.

After all, the country has a reputation for marketing weapons to rogue nations of the world, including Iran, Syria and Libya. Condoleezza Rice rightly labeled the repressive regime as an "arms bazaar." It could now conceivably add nuclear devices to its export catalogue.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter had lent a left hand to then-president Bill Clinton, when he assisted him in 1994 to complete a sham bargain with North Korea. How this occurred is an object lesson in what happens when appeasement and ineffectiveness are fused with international diplomacy.

In 1993, Kim Sung-il suddenly withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. But in July 1994, the elder Kim died of a heart attack. His son took over and seemed to adopt a more moderated stance with the West.

After U.S. intelligence exposed North Korea's redirection of nuclear technology from peaceful civilian use to nuclear weaponry, the Clinton administration began negotiations to convince the Stalinist nation to dismantle its nuclear plans.

In October of 1994, U.S. and North Korean representatives concluded a deal. North Korea's nuclear weapons program would stop and, in exchange, the U.S. would subsidize an ailing economy unable to feed its own people. North Korea's prizes in the agreement were two contemporary nuclear reactors designed for non-weapons-grade radioactive materials.

Almost immediately, there were indications that the North Koreans were breaking the agreement. U.S. intelligence agencies began to trace North Korea's purchases and military maneuvers. In July of 2002, documentary evidence was found in the form of purchase orders for the materials necessary to enrich uranium.

In October 2002, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly met with his North Korean counterpart for scheduled talks. Kelly confronted North Korea with the tangible evidence of its duplicity. After a day of outright denial, North Korea abruptly reversed its position and defiantly acknowledged a secret nuclear program.

The combination of the evidence and President Bush's firm stance may be the reason the North Koreans confessed to the existence of a secret program. But North Korea would not have unleashed this information on the world without the go-ahead from its longtime sponsor in destructive weaponry ­ China.

During the last round of talks that Clinton, Carter and Company had with North Korea, the poverty-stricken nation appeared to be worried about sanctions and the cessation of economic aid.

It is hoped that the Bush administration will look directly at the depraved nature of the government of North Korea and put Ronald Reagan's maxim to full use. Any discourse that takes place between the U.S. and North Korea must be done from a firm position of strength.

A certain degree of trust must reluctantly be granted to any regime that is the object of diplomacy. But Reagan admonished us to remember to engage in a singular activity that is indispensable in dealing with corrupt communist nations: "Trust but verify."

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James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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