The Bush administration has refused to face the dangerous reality of the North Korean nuclear crisis, a former senior Pentagon official said last night during a panel at the Kennedy School of Government (KSG).
Ashton B. Carter, who served as assistant secretary of defense from 1993 to 1996, said that Clinton administration officials devised plans to invade North Korea in 1994 but balked because the civilian death toll would “shock the conscience of the world.”
Carter has emerged as a prominent critic of the 11-nation Proliferation Security Initiative, a U.S.-led effort to intercept North Korean weapons shipments at sea.
“It is a fantasy to suppose that, when you need this much material to make a bomb from,” Carter said, dramatically brandishing the panelists’ pitcher of water, “you can put a hermetic seal around North Korea.”
Carter, who is also Ford Foundation professor of science and international affairs at the KSG, said that the U.S. invasion of Iraq may have magnified the global nuclear threat.
Iran and North Korea will likely step up their own nuclear programs to avoid Iraq’s fate, Carter said.
Carter said that Iranian and North Korean officials likely believe that “Saddam Hussein’s mistake wasn’t in going too far, it was in not going far enough.”
Thomas C. Hubbard, the current U.S. ambassador to Seoul, defended the Bush administration’s record and said that American negotiators had established “the beginnings of dialogue” with Pyongyang during the recent round of talks in Beijing in August.
“Right now, [Pyongyang] would like to have a nuclear program, and they would like to have all the benefits that flow from being a member of the international community,” Hubbard said. “The message that we are trying to convey to them in talks is that they have to make a choice.”
But Carter said that the U. S. must decide if it is prepared to officially recognize North Korea in a Rose Garden ceremony.
“I don’t know if the U.S. is ready to make a deal,” said Carter, adding that President Bush’s emphasis on “moral clarity” might prevent him from reaching a pact with Kim Jong Il, even if the nuclear issue is resolved.
Carter and Hubbard both expressed frustration with China’s policies towards Pyongyang.
“If the Chinese chose to strangle the North Korean regime, they could do that,” Carter said. “But they won’t, because then they would have 22 million refugees on their border.”
“Almost 300,000 North Korean refugees are just wandering in the northern territories of China,” Hubbard said.
But Beijing officials “have not been interested at all” in collaborating with international humanitarian agencies, he said.
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