Steve Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute and former director of Asian Studies at the Claremont Institute, and Chuck DeVore, Vice President for National Initiatives at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and former California State Assembly Representative wrote this op-ed—“Nuclear pact with North Korea could end up in a meltdown”—for the Ontario Daily Bulletin in March, 1995. It is reprinted below. Names and dates have changed in the last twenty years, but U.S. policy towards North Korea has not.   

he American foreign aid program to North Korea, a rogue state that just shot down a U.S. military helicopter, has begun. On Dec. 15, 50,000 metric tons of free oil was handed over to the Pyongyang regime, with regular shipments to follow. The price tag? Fifty million dollars a year for the next 10 years. The funds for this giveaway are to come, ironically enough, out of the Pentagon’s operations readiness budget.

This is but a small part of the Clinton/Carter peace-in-our-time deal with Pyongyang, hyped as preventing war on the Korean peninsula and nuclear mayhem in the world. Instead, this flawed agreement appears to give Kim Jong Il and his cohorts exactly what they need: time, money and legitimacy.

Time: Instead of requiring immediate inspections of two nuclear waste sites to determine if—or, more likely, how many—nuclear bombs have been made, the agreement gives North Korea a five-year grace period—time to develop and test its nuclear arsenal, time to further refine its intermediate-range ballistic missiles, time to export nuclear bombs and delivery systems to radical states like Iran or Syria who may in turn pass them to terrorist groups.

Money:  Free oil is the least of the goodies that U.S. taxpayers have been committed to providing North Korea. Pyongyang will also receive two new 1,000 megawatt nuclear power plants (estimated cost: $4 billion), nuclear fuel (estimated cost: $2 billion) and a modern power grid (estimated cost: $1 billion or more). South Korea is expected to pay the bulk of these costs, but Clinton has formally pledged that the U.S. will pick up the whole tab if it doesn’t.

Legitimacy: The U.S. and its Pacific allies have offered to establish bilateral diplomatic relations at an early date, a promise that is helping to legitimize what has hitherto been regarded as an outlaw regime. As a consequence, Pyongyang may soon be enjoying another windfall: low interest rate loans from the World Bank and other international financial institutions.

How did North Korea manage to extort such an unprecedented payoff from the United States in return for mere promises?

By 1993 it was apparent that Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program was on the verge of success. After international inspectors were denied entry to North Korean nuclear facilities, the IAEA estimated that four to five nuclear weapons could be produced from the plutonium in Pyongyang’s possession. By early 1994, Pyongyang was openly threatening to disregard U.N. agreements that limited nuclear weapons development. Many took this to mean that it had already constructed such armaments.

President Clinton initially came on strong, stating that North Korea must not be allowed to build or deploy any nuclear weapons. He threatened to impose an economic embargo on Pyongyang until it abandoned its nuclear ambitions.

Pyongyang fired back, charging that such an embargo would be an act of war. If the United States persisted in its plans, Seoul would be in flames, its streets covered with blood.

At the height of the crisis, Clinton blinked. He abandoned his half-hearted efforts at an embargo, which China, Japan, and even South Korea had begun to resist. Instead, Jimmy Carter went to North Korea to defuse the situation. Carter met with octogenarian dictator Kim Il Sung and returned in self-declared triumph, sounding Chamberlainesque as he avowed that the peace had been won.

The deal was temporarily put on ice when Kim Il Sung died, but negotiations were resumed in Geneva as soon as his son and heir, Kim Jong Il, had consolidated power. Since it was by now clear to all concerned that Washington wished to avoid conflict at any price, Pyongyang’s demands were steep: two turn-key nuclear power plants, a new power grid and free oil to burn while its old reactors were idled. As for what had been done with the weapons-grade plutonium these reactors had produced, well, the United States would just have to wait five years and see.

All this “crisis management” has obscured the real question, which still remains “Has North Korea amassed an arsenal of nuclear weapons?” It is not reassuring that Robert Gallucci, the chief U.S. negotiator in Geneva, professes indifference on this point. In the course of 16-months of negotiating with the North Koreans, Ambassador Gallucci remarked on the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour on Oct. 18 that he did not believe that he had ever inquired whether they had acquired nuclear weapons. Indeed, as Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy recently commented, “The Clinton administration seems fixedly disinterested in this point, perhaps because it highlights Mr. Clinton’s complete abandonment of his previous position that the North must not be allowed to obtain any nuclear weapons.”

One suspects that this most foolish of deals will have a short half-life. The general in charge of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who is in a position to know the particulars of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, has recently—and at great peril to his career—spoken critically of the agreement. Many among the new Republican majority in Congress also question the prudence of rewarding the rogue state for merely making promises, which may or may not be kept.

The incoming Congress should insist on a real agreement, one that ensures North Korea does not now possess, and is permanently disbarred from developing, nuclear weapons. Republican pressure has already helped Clinton recall and act upon a number of his earlier promises, such as that for a middle class tax cut. They should jog his memory and stiffen his spine on North Korea, too.