Failed Diplomacy: The Tragic Story of How North Korea Got the Bomb

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North Korea's development of nuclear weapons raises fears of nuclear war on the peninsula and the specter of terrorists gaining access to weapons of mass destruction. It also represents a dangerous and disturbing breakdown in U.S. foreign policy. Failed Diplomacy: The Tragic Story of How North Korea Got the Bomb offers an insider's view of what went wrong and allowed this isolated nation —a charter member of the Axis of Evil —to develop nuclear weapons.

Charles L. "Jack" Pritchard was intimately involved in developing America's North Korea policy under Presidents Clinton and Bush. Here, he offers an authoritative analysis of recent developments on the Korean peninsula and reveals how the Bush administration's mistakes damaged the prospects of controlling nuclear proliferation. Although multilateral negotiations continue, Pritchard proclaims the Six-Party Talks as a failure.

His chronicle begins with the suspicions over North Korea's uranium enrichment program in 2002 that led to the demise of the Clinton-era Agreed Framework. Subsequently, Pyongyang kicked out international monitors and restarted its nuclear weapons program. Pritchard provides a first-hand account of how the Six-Party Talks were initiated and offers a play-by-play account of each round of negotiations, detailing the national interests of the key players —China, Japan, Russia, both Koreas, and the United States. The author believes the failure to prevent Kim Jong Il from "going nuclear" points to the need for a permanent security forum in Northeast Asia that would serve as a formal mechanism for dialogue in the region.

Hard-hitting and insightful, Failed Diplomacy offers a stinging critique of the Bush administration's manner and policy in dealing with North Korea. More hopefully, it suggests what can be learned from missed opportunities.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In this valuable insider account of the Bush administration's tumultuous dealings with the Korean Peninsula, Pritchard recounts the policy struggles and turning points that ran from President George W. Bush's decision to end the Clinton-era engagement of North Korea to the rise of "axis of evil" thinking and the counterproliferation doctrine, to North Korea's missile and nuclear tests, to the saga of the six-party talks." —G. John Ikenberry, Foreign Affairs

" Failed Diplomacy is an invaluable insider's exposure of the way foreign policy is crafted in Washington, and will be welcomed by some as another attack on the nefarious dealings of the neocons, or "hardliners" as Pritchard calls them." —Jasper Becker, Times Literary Supplement

"A revealing account of the past half-decade of arduous U.S.-DPRK diplomacy over the North's nuclear weapons program.... it will serve as a useful primary source for special Northeast Asian security affairs, presidential decision-making, and foreign policy." —Jason A. Kirk, Virginia Military Institute, American Review of Politics

"The book is a must-read for those who want to understand the failure of diplomacy to stop North Korea from going nuclear." —J.J. Suh, SAIS-Johns Hopkins University, Political Science Quarterly

Publishers Weekly
There are weapons of mass destruction after all, merely in a different country with a ruler wackier than Saddam Hussein. Pritchard, a former envoy to North Korea, writes that a sensible diplomatic approach to dictator Kim Jong-Il would have eliminated his nuclear program, then carefully recounts 15 years of diplomatic maneuvers that failed to achieve this. Readers with the persistence to finish will learn a great deal. The story begins with a 1994 agreement between America, its allies and North Korea. In exchange for the North Koreans dismantling a plutonium reactor (purportedly being built for electricity) under international inspection, the allies would build two proliferation-resistant light water reactors and ship fuel oil to the country to tide it over. Taking office in 2001, President Bush denounced that agreement as a bribe that rewarded bad behavior. "We don't negotiate with evil; we defeat it," added his vice-president. Hurling insults in return, Kim resumed North Korea's nuclear program; 2006 saw both a missile and a bomb test. Pritchard supports his argument with extensive quotes from communiqués, speeches and diplomatic exchanges plus detailed explanations of the subtleties of Asian diplomacy and much less subtle views of Bush hard-liners. The author is too diplomatic to express strong feelings, but even readers tempted to skim will detect his depression because he tells a depressing story. (June)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780815772002
  • Publisher: Brookings Institution Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2007
  • Edition description: ANN
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles L. "Jack" Pritchard is currently president of the Korea Economic Institute and was formerly a visiting fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution. He has served as U.S. ambassador and special envoy for negotiations with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and as U.S. representative to the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization under George W. Bush. He also served as special assistant to the president for national security affairs and as senior director for Asian affairs under Bill Clinton. He served for twenty-eight years in the U.S. Army.

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Read an Excerpt

Failed Diplomacy

The Tragic Story of How North Korea Got the Bomb
By Charles L. Pritchard

Brookings Institution Press

Copyright © 2007 Brookings Institution Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8157-7200-2

Chapter One

Prelude to Crisis The DPRK is fully ready to cope with whatever stand to be taken by the new U.S. administration towards it. The DPRK appreciates the progress so far made in the bilateral ties through negotiations with U.S. politicians of reason but has no idea of pinning any hope on those forces displeased with this process. If the U.S. brandishes a sword at us, we will counter it with a sword and if it shows good faith, we will reciprocate it. -Spokesman, North Korean Foreign Ministry, January 25, 2001

NorthKorea's view of the world order underwent a radical revision on January 20, 2001, with the inauguration of George W. Bush as president of the United States. Chances are, however, that Pyongyang would have had a significant shock had any Republican succeeded President Bill Clinton. Understanding the dynamics of political change in a democracy is not the strong suit of the North Koreans, and the changes that occur when one political party replaces another-or in this case, when the Democrats handed over the keys to the White House to the Republicans-fully mystified Pyongyang.

From the point of view of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), it had overcome a rocky start with the Clinton administration-one that included the real possibility of war breaking out on the Korean Peninsula over North Korea's nuclear weapons program in 1993-94-to reach a point at the end of the administration where it appeared possible that Clinton would travel to Pyongyang to meet with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il. That potential summit between Clinton and Kim had been made possible by a series of high-level meetings held in late 2000. First, South Korea's president, Kim Dae-jung, made a historic trip to Pyongyang to meet with Kim Jong-il. Second, Kim Jong-il sent his number two, Vice Marshal Jo Myong-nok, to Washington to meet with Clinton and to invite Clinton to travel to Pyongyang to meet with Kim and resolve "all U.S. security concerns." And finally, in late October 2000, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright traveled to Pyongyang and met with Kim Jong-il to assess the merits of a possible Clinton-Kim summit. The North Korean attitude toward the Bush administration, however, is summed up best in a paper written by Li Gun, DPRK director general for American affairs:

During the Clinton administration, as the result of DPRK-US negotiations to resolve the nuclear question, U.S. policy toward North Korea showed signs of moving away from pure hostility to partial engagement. For a time there was even a glimmer of hope for the eventual solution to the nuclear question, in light of the freezing of graphite-moderated reactor facilities and spent fuel rods and the supply of heavy oil and light-water reactors. But with the Bush administration putting an end to bilateral political dialogue, its "axis of evil" pronouncement, and defining North Korea as a target of preemptive nuclear strike, the nuclear question has come back to the starting point.

The presidential campaign of 2000 did not focus much on North Korea, but there certainly were indicators that a new Bush administration's approach to foreign policy would be different-that is to say, it would declare Clinton's policies a failure and work to distance itself from the underlying principles associated with those policies. An example of that approach is found in an article by Condoleezza Rice, Governor Bush's foreign policy adviser during the 2000 presidential campaign:

The regime of Kim Jong Il is so opaque that it is difficult to know its motivations, other than that they are malign. But North Korea also lives outside of the international system. Like East Germany, North Korea is the evil twin of a successful regime just across its border. It must fear its eventual demise from the sheer power and pull of South Korea. Pyongyang, too, has little to gain and everything to lose from engagement in the international economy. The development of WMD thus provides the destructive way out for Kim Jong Il.

President Kim Dae Jung of South Korea is attempting to find a peaceful resolution with the north through engagement. Any U.S. policy toward the north should depend heavily on coordination with Seoul and Tokyo. In that context, the 1994 framework agreement that attempted to bribe North Korea into forsaking nuclear weapons cannot easily be set aside. Still, there is a trap inherent in this approach: sooner or later Pyongyang will threaten to test a missile one too many times, and the United States will not respond with further benefits. Then what will Kim Jong Il do? The possibility for miscalculation is very high.

One thing is clear: the United States must approach regimes like North Korea resolutely and decisively. The Clinton administration has failed here, sometimes threatening to use force and then backing down, as it often has with Iraq. These regimes are living on borrowed time, so there need be no sense of panic about them. Rather, the first line of defense should be a clear and classical statement of deterrence-if they do acquire WMD, their weapons will be unusable because any attempt to use them will bring national obliteration. Second, we should accelerate efforts to defend against these weapons. This is the most important reason to deploy national and theater missile defenses as soon as possible, to focus attention on U.S. homeland defenses against chemical and biological agents, and to expand intelligence capabilities against terrorism of all kinds.

In an interview after the election in December 2000, Peter Rodman, who would become assistant secretary of defense during the first term of President Bush, said that the Republican position was much more skeptical of North Korea and that the incoming Bush administration had "very different policy views" on North Korea "that ought to inhibit the outgoing administration from dramatic initiatives," such as embarking on a presidential trip to North Korea.

When South Korean president Kim Dae-jung visited Washington to meet with President Bush in early March 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell announced that the administration was prepared to pick up where Clinton had left off in negotiating with North Korea. The following day, Powell retracted his statement (see chapter 5), jokingly saying that he had gotten ahead of his skis and that the administration's policy would be guided by an ongoing policy review.

What most upset Republicans about the Clinton legacy on North Korea was the Agreed Framework of October 1994, which was designed to freeze North Korea's nuclear program and allow for monitoring of its facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Eventually the facilities were to be dismantled and thousands of spent fuel rods shipped out of North Korea. In exchange, the United States was to organize an international consortium, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), which would build two proliferation-resistant light-water reactors (LWRs) over a period of approximately ten years. The United States also would take responsibility for providing 500,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil each year until the first LWR was completed. In addition, the United States and North Korea pledged to reduce trade and investment barriers (U.S. economic sanctions had been imposed on North Korea as a result of the Korean War) and to open liaison offices in each other's capital. Most Republicans believed the agreement rewarded the DPRK's "bad behavior" with a nuclear reactor that could give Pyongyang access to fissile material.

The Clinton administration had gone through its own growing pains in dealing with North Korea and developing a policy that it was comfortable with. By the end of the Clinton administration, U.S. policy toward North Korea was marked by close coordination with Seoul and Tokyo, a continued freeze on Pyongyang's nuclear program accompanied by IAEA monitoring, and direct dialogue with Pyongyang that allowed the United States to pursue its missile concerns as well as potential violations of the Agreed Framework.

The First North Korea Policy Review

On June 6, 2001, the Bush White House announced the conclusions of the administration's North Korea policy review. The original intention was to review them with Han Song-soo, the foreign minister of the Republic of Korea (ROK), when he arrived in Washington on June 6, take his comments into consideration, and produce a final, coordinated version. The symbolism of taking a coordinated position on North Korea was important, especially following the disastrous and, from South Korea's point of view, humiliating summit meeting between President Bush and President Kim Dae-jung in March 2001.

Kim, a Nobel Peace Prize winner recognized by the Nobel committee for his extensive efforts to engage North Korea, had expected to have a meaningful dialogue with Bush to convince him of the wisdom of continuing the engagement effort. However, he had been publicly rebuffed by Bush, a novice with no knowledge of the issues involved. The South Koreans took particular offense at Bush's public reference to Kim as "this man." Rather than cement the bilateral relationship, as Kim sought to do, Bush had questioned the value of South Korea's approach to North Korea.

Unfortunately, someone leaked the results of the administration's policy review to the news media, and rather than wait to consult with Foreign Minister Han Song-soo, the White House scrambled to make the announcement itself, trying to ensure that the appropriate "spin" accompanied the story.

At the time I was special envoy for negotiations with the DPRK and the U.S. representative to KEDO. In an effort to ensure that the South Koreans knew about the results before the story broke, I quickly summoned Yu Myung-hwan, the South Korean deputy chief of mission (the number two at South Korea's embassy in Washington), to the State Department before he went to Andrews Air Force Base to meet the foreign minister, who was at that moment en route from New York. I hurriedly summarized the results of the review and shared the statement that the White House intended to make public shortly. As a result, he was able to brief Foreign Minister Han Song-soo at the airport as the White House announcement was made. A casualty of this rush to get the announcement on the air was, of course, the consultative process that the government normally engages in with a close U.S. ally.

If faced with the prospect of the news media "breaking" a story that is bound to include opposing views and analysis of a process or policy, the White House would inevitably choose to tell the story in its own words first. The White House wanted to minimize any suggestion that the policymaking process had been contentious. Getting its version on the record first allowed it go through a complete news cycle without having to answer questions about someone else's assertion that the administration was split on its policy views on North Korea. In this case, some of the first stories reporting the White House announcement contained suggestions that the hard-liners at the Pentagon and the National Security Council (NSC) were pitted against more moderate officials at the State Department. And as is the case a lot of the time, the reporters were right.

To make sure that the correct message got out, NSC staff developed the following background points to be used when the press was briefed on the North Korea policy announcement:

-We have conducted a major review of our policy toward North Korea over the past three months. We have taken a comprehensive look at our objectives and our options.

-We have consulted closely with our South Korean and Japanese allies, whose views have played an important role in our policy deliberations. Preserving strong alliances with South Korea and Japan is a top priority for us as we go forward.

-We also have carefully considered the approach of the previous administration. Some of the elements of its approach were useful and important, and we have incorporated them into our thinking.

-We have decided to pursue the following course:

We are ready to enter serious discussions with the DPRK in a straightforward fashion as to how we can address issues of concern to our South Korean and Asian allies and to the United States. We have in mind a comprehensive approach on which we make progress on all fronts simultaneously. North Korea's steps would involve real progress toward North-South reconciliation and peace on the Korean peninsula. If North Korea responds affirmatively, our steps would involve expanding our efforts to help the North Korean people, easing economic sanctions, and other political steps.

-Our discussions will include such matters as the following:

Improved implementation of the Agreed Framework relating to North Korea's nuclear activities and IAEA compliance;

An effectively verifiable ban on missile exports and constraints on indigenous missile programs; and

Adoption of a less threatening conventional military posture.

-We are serious about changing the nature of our relationship with North Korea. Our goal is to offer Kim Jong-il the opportunity to demonstrate his seriousness about his desire for an improved relationship.

-Let me describe a few of our guiding principles.

First of all, as President Bush has made clear, we strongly support President Kim's reconciliation efforts with North Korea. Ultimately, solving the fundamental security problems on the Peninsula requires North-South rapprochement. In fact, a key element of our approach will be to encourage North-South reconciliation; we do not want to distract or divert North Korea from making progress with the South. Secondly, as we have said before, we want to change the basis on which we interact with North Korea. We will not be driven into dialogue with North Korea through threats or provocations, and we will not reward bad behavior. But we will respond positively to positive steps by North Korea. Thirdly, the Administration is skeptical about the intentions and sincerity of the DPRK regime. That is why any agreements we may pursue must be effectively verifiable. Finally, our priority is in the curtailing of DPRK activities that threaten us, our allies, and regional stability-in East Asia and other regions.

Many of the same principles were incorporated into proposals made by the United States during the June 2004 third round of six-party talks, which included the United States, the Republic of Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and the DPRK.

Seeking Bilateral Discussions with Pyongyang

In the week following the president's June 6 announcement of the policy review conclusions, I transmitted to my North Korean counterpart, Vice Minister Kim Gye-gwan, the administration's interest in meeting for bilateral talks. I arranged to host a lunch in New York on June 13 for Ambassador Li Hyongchol, North Korea's permanent representative to the United Nations, in order to have Li convey a letter from me to Kim Gye-gwan advising him of the results of the administration's policy review and offering to meet to begin a dialogue. Having already had too many fights with the hard-line elements at the White House, I waited until the last moment before inviting a National Security Council staffer to accompany me. I also waited until we were in a taxi from the airport headed to Manhattan before showing her my letter to Kim; I did not want predictable objections and wordsmithing to delay a simple letter. In the letter I set no preconditions, and I deferred to Vice Minister Kim on selecting a date and venue. Several people later suggested that I should have proposed a date and location for the initial meeting, forcing Kim to accept the proposal or counter with a specific date of his own. My intention at the time was to convey orally through Li that I understood that Kim was a vice minister, senior in rank and experience to me, and that I would adjust my schedule to fit his.


Excerpted from Failed Diplomacy by Charles L. Pritchard Copyright © 2007 by Brookings Institution Press . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents


1. Prelude to Crisis

PART I. The Role of Rhetoric: Getting to Yes

2. Confrontation over Highly Enriched Uranium

3. Influencing the Bush Team

4. Establishing a Multilateral Framework

Part II. Origin of the Six-Party Talks

5. Washington and Seoul: A Falling Out

6. The Players

PART III. Six-Party Talks

7. Six-Party Talks: A Scorecard

8. Rounds Four and Five: False Start or Cause for Optimism?

9. Consequences and Accountability

10. Missiles, Nukes, and Talks

11. Bilateral Engagement with Pyongyang: The Record

12. Establishing a Permanent Security Forum




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