In the early 2000s, North Korea became increasingly isolated internationally, acquiring nuclear weapons technology while diplomatic channels such as the Six Party Talks came to a halt. During the two presidential terms of George W. Bush, Washington’s policy towards Pyongyang focused on demonization and confrontation rather than engagement – famously placing North Korea on the so-called “Axis of Evil” – and was repeatedly criticized by experts and policymakers alike. Yet the question remains whether the United States deserve the blame – and whether this criticism might paint a one-sided image.
To learn more about the American views and policy towards North Korea during the Bush years, we had the honor of talking to Victor D. Cha who was in the White House at the time. He worked as Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council between 2004 and 2007 and also served as Deputy Head of Delegation for the United States at the Six Party Talks in Beijing. For this episode, we talked about his time in the Bush administration and his views on the current situation surrounding North Korea.
Professor Victor D. Cha is director of Asian Studies and holds the D.S. Song Chair in Government and International Affairs at Georgetown University. He has published articles in numerous academic journals, including International Security and Foreign Affairs, and is a frequent contributor to various media such as CNN, The New York Times and Time. His most recent book, The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future was selected by Foreign Affairs as a best book of 2012 on the Asia-Pacific. Professor Cha holds a PhD in Political Science from Columbia University, and Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University and in Philosophy, Politics, and Economy (PPE) from the University of Oxford.
The negative assessments [of the Bush administration’s policy towards North Korea] part flow from a heroic assumption that if the United States simply just sat down with North Korea and negotiated with them, then all of our problems would be solved […] But again, if you look at the history of negotiations for the past quarter century, the United States has sat down with North Korea. At one point, during the Clinton administration, we invited North Korean officials into the White House. So there had been real efforts – every U.S. President has sent a personal communication to the leadership of North Korea, including President Bush […] I don’t think the problem is U.S. policy – I think the problem is: you have a country north of the 38th Parallel that is dead set on becoming a nuclear weapon state […].
The interview was recorded on July 15th in Seoul.