Lecturer Rails Bush's North Korea Strategy
Mixed reactions emerged from the Hallock Auditorium last Friday night after Korean and East Asian Studies scholar Bruce Cummings delivered a speech critical of the Bush administration’s handling of the North Korean nuclear stand-off.
In his lecture, Cummings played down the tentative agreement reached last month with North Korea, stating that the agreement was a small success in a series of Bush administration failures. According to Cummings, President Bill Clinton nearly closed a comprehensive denuclearization deal in the late 1990s, only to have the Bush administration reverse his work shortly after coming to power.
Cummings said the Clinton administration made many steps to end nuclear programs in North Korea. In 1994, the Agreed Framework shut down plutonium plants throughout the country. In 1999, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met with leaders in Pyongyang to pave the way for a deal that would extend this agreement, in addition to removing missiles threatening Japan.
After George W. Bush won the 2000 election, however, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice stated that the new administration would not continue working on Albright’s agreement. Instead, the administration gave North Korea the title “Axis of Evil,” claiming that the country had violated the Agreed Framework by importing uranium enrichment tools from Pakistan.
Cummings agrees with other skeptics who say that the Bush administration overstated the reliability of its intelligence. “It may have been highly enriched intelligence, but not highly enriched uranium,” Cummings quipped.
He noted that North Korea did import 20 aluminum centrifuges — which can operate to enrich uranium — from Pakistan. However, 100,000 of these devices must run constantly to create enough uranium for one bomb. Based on this information, Cummings argued that the Clinton administration’s diplomatic approach was the best way to neutralize North Korea’s nuclear capacity.
Criticism emerged from the audience after Cummings concluded his lecture. College senior James Barnard asked Cummings if he “[thought he was] being a little naive” in assuming that North Korea could be trusted to disarm under such an agreement.
Professor of Philosophy Tim Hall voiced similar concerns, arguing that North Korea seems to put on a display of its nuclear capabilities every time it needs more international aid.
Professor Cummings responded to the criticisms by claiming that North Korea has wanted to normalize relations with the United States since 1991. In all international agreements, he observed, you must give something up if you want to gain something, and both sides must be held accountable to their promises. Therefore, he said, UN inspectors will have to work diligently to verify North Korea’s compliance with any agreements.
Dr. Bruce Cummings is a professor of history at the University of Chicago. His presentation was sponsored by the East Asian Studies Program, the Oberlin Korean Students Association and the Freeman Foundation Undergraduate Asian Studies Initiative.