- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 26, 2002

Is anybody surprised by the latest "news" out of North Korea? Kim Jong Il, its wacky but wily leader, seems to have been busy developing his own bomb, a la Saddam Hussein, ever since he promised not to.

It was clear this would happen as soon as North Korea solemnly assured the world it would not develop nuclear weapons. Even to a country editor in that key listening post Little Rock, Ark.

Modesty should forbid, but I can't think of anything I'd add now to words I wrote more than eight years ago Aug. 17, 1994 when the Clinton administration was billing this agreement with Pyongyang as "a major breakthrough," "significant progress" and generally peace in our time:

"We don't want to hype this as a major breakthrough," said one of those anonymous State Department types, preparatory to hyping the developing deal with North Korea as a major breakthrough.

The latest round of negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington, he assured, had resulted in "significant progress in a brief period of time."

Namely? Well, Pyongyang promised to abide by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty it had promised to abide by before, specifically only two years previously. It agreed not to develop the nuclear weapons it officially claimed it wasn't developing. And it agreed to trade its old 5-megawatt nuclear reactor for new, 2,000-megawatt plants courtesy of the United States and friends. (Who wouldn't?)

Pyongyang also agreed to stop building two new graphite reactors that would produce the type of plutonium used in nuclear weapons, and not to reprocess some 8,000 used fuel rods that could be used to make nukes. North Korea's regime, as history has shown, has no insuperable problems making agreements, only carrying them out.

Sometimes it's not the terms of an agreement that count but the good faith of the signer. Reading these promises from Pyongyang, old Korean hands might wonder: Isn't this where we came in? One is reminded, not for the first time, of Prospero's knowing response when Miranda exclaims over what a Brave New World she's discovered: "'Tis new to thee.''

In return for concessions that are more like promises and hopes, North Korea gets money enough to build the nuclear plants that could restore its power supply and revive its flickering economy, which is in about the same shape as Cuba's these days.

Washington also agreed to grant North Korea diplomatic recognition, which in turn should lead Japan and the European democracies to extend recognition. This is the kind of respectability and foreign aid that Pyongyang long has yearned for. Altogether, it's not a bad deal for one of the world's few remaining Stalinist holdouts. Indeed, it's a diplomatic and economic coup. It could even prove a military one if treachery bests innocence once again.

Encircled by rising democracies, outproduced by its rival on the Korean Peninsula, with its economy enfeebled and the only ruler it had ever known giving way to an unknown quality in his son and heir, North Korea was dealt the poorest of hands. And parlayed it into a winning deal.

One can't help but recall Winston Churchill's verdict in 1938 on the significant progress represented by the Munich conference after the various bargaining sessions that had preceded it: "We really must not waste time after this long debate upon the difference between the positions reached at Berchtesgaden, at Godesberg and at Munich. They can be very simply epitomized. One pound was demanded at the pistol's point. When it was given, two pounds were demanded at the pistol's point. Finally, the dictator consented to take one pound, 17 shillings, 6 pence and the rest in promises of good will for the future."

And the crowds cheered peace in our time, just as some will cheer this settlement for a while. Once again the world gained not peace but peace for a time, not a settlement but a respite.

Surely the lesson of all this will not be lost on some other small but rapacious powers: Threaten to pull out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the United States will beat a path to your door. No doubt this is what the Clinton administration calls crisis prevention, a much more attractive term than appeasement. Of course appeasement was an acceptable word, too, before it bore poisoned fruit.

That nameless American diplomat was right when he said this latest agreement with North Korea represents "significant progress in a brief period of time" for one of the world's most brutal regimes.

No doubt the American people will now be assured that North Korea can be trusted, and in so many words be advised to hope for the best. Margaret Thatcher said it: "Hope is no basis for a defense policy."

The moral of the story: Danger thrives on neglect.

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