The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

The North Korean Deal

February 13, 2007

I’m still reading reports of the North Korea nuclear deal, and I should have more to say as things develop. A few quick thoughts:

1. The terms of the deal, at least as currently reported, seem reasonable. North Korea looks to get most of what it wants, but the benefits of a non-nuclear North Korea mitigate against that. The administration should ignore the howls of protest already emanating from hardliners. The US, Japan, and South Korea don’t have any other good options. Military strikes are too costly, and the Chinese will only pressure North Korea so far in the current environment. As I argued in one of my earliest posts on the Duck of Minerva, bribery has its places in international politics, and bribing the North Koreans is a price we’re likely going to have to pay for our policy objectives in Northeast Asia.

2. The deal may still fall through, either in the short-term or the long-term. A failed deal, however, may be better than the status quo so long as North Korea, rather than the US, shoulders the blame for the breakdown of the proposed process. In such a scenario, the US may have an easier time pressuring the Chinese to take an even harder line on the North Koreans.

3. I’m not convinced that the US will likely suffer “reputational” costs that hinder negotiations with the Iranians. Not only has the US already made clear that it won’t punish other proliferators–such as India and Pakistan–but the deal at stake is conditioned on eventual North Korean denuclearization. If the Iranians want some aid and a future normalization of relations with the US in exchange for giving up their program, that seems like a pretty good deal for the US as well.

4. The Bush administration has basically embraced the Clinton policy for dealing with North Korea, so it isn’t surprising that hardliners feel betrayed. My advice to them is to get over it. Rob Farley has more on the subject.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.