Look closer. Think harder. Choose the sound argument over the clever one.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Diplomacy or Failure?

The NY Times' Michael R. Gordon and Mark Mazzetti on Sunday:

Three months after the United States successfully pressed the United Nations to impose strict sanctions on North Korea because of the country’s nuclear test, Bush administration officials allowed Ethiopia to complete a secret arms purchase from the North, in what appears to be a violation of the restrictions, according to senior American officials.

Not good. But let's look closer.

Between the lines. We see that the U.N. is unable to "impose" anything. Like, for instance, blocking this shipment. It's up to the member states, the coalition of the willing.

The situation. Ethiopia asked that this shipment be grandfathered. We're pressuring them to quit buying from North Korea, and they seem responsive. One American official, apparently in the know, is confident that "the issue had been handled properly."

Ethiopia approached us, not trying to hide it. Buying stuff at super-low margin puts less money in Kim Jong Il's pocket than just giving him cash.

In paragraph 1 we learn that it "appears to be a violation of the restrictions" because (from paragraph 9) it "was probably carrying tank parts and other military equipment." But in paragraph 18 we learn that China and Russia blocked the U.N. resolution from requiring inspections of ships leaving North Korea. Thanks to Russia and China, perhaps we'll never know.

Gordon and Mazzetti patiently instruct us how to interpret this:

But the arms deal is an example of the compromises that result from the clash of two foreign policy absolutes: the Bush administration’s commitment to fighting Islamic radicalism and its effort to starve the North Korean government of money it could use to build up its nuclear weapons program.

So we're told that the the Bush administration is absolutist while showing us evidence to the contrary.

Idle speculation. Under a Kerry Presidency, wouldn't this be called nuance? A difficult trade-off? Being patient vs. demanding with an ally? But under a Kerry presidency, the sanctions probably wouldn't be there to begin with: that would make the world a better place.

It recalls the agonizing trade-offs we made during the cold war, making friends with unsavory characters to keep monsters like Stalin and Mao at bay. And like the left in the cold war, we see Stalinist North Korea mentioned only in passing.

Looks like it was the State Department advising the Bush Administration to allow it:

“Never underestimate the strength of ‘clientitis’ at the State Department,” said Mr. Bolton, using Washington jargon for a situation in which State Department officials are deemed to be overly sympathetic to the countries they conduct diplomacy with.

So (it seems) the Bush administration took the State Department's advice. I thought they didn't listen to anyone?

The U.N. security council resolution is S/RES/1718 (2006) (found here). Section 8.a.i describes what's banned.

Any battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles or missile systems as defined for the purpose of the United Nations Register on Conventional Arms, or related materiel including spare parts, or items as determined by the Security Council or the Committee established by paragraph 12 below (the Committee);

Small arms and ammunition aren't on this list (oddly), so the shipment might not have violated it.

via Chicago Tribune

Another blatant, not-so-secret violation: apparently today we just unfroze some of North Korea's funds. That's a clear violation of 1718's section 8.(d), by the way (and a huge disappointment to me). But will the Times report it that way?

Update, 4/14: The more I think and read, the more I put our lax treatment of North Korea sqarely in the "Failure" category, but I stand by my original comments.


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