The denuclearisation deal hammered out with North Korea is unsatisfactory. It is nowhere near as comprehensive and unequivocal as the resolution that was passed by the UN Security Council last October in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear test. It omits any reference to North Korea’s biological and chemical weapons programmes, and defers to a later stage such critical questions as Pyongyang’s suspected enrichment of uranium. It is expensive: $300 million of oil ” equivalent to around two thirds of North Korea’s annual oil consumption ” looks suspiciously like rewarding bad behavior. Pyongyang’s undertakings will be inordinately difficult to monitor, and not only because it has broken all previous promises. The country is pocked with tunnels, bunkers and subterranean chambers where production facilities could be hidden.
Above all, this agreement comes late in the day. That is not the fault of America, which has tried much harder than its critics concede to keep the lines open. To do that, it had perforce to rely on China, the only state capable of bringing North Korea back into line. Yesterday’s start down the road to denuclearisation could have begun long ago, well before Pyongyang was able to test a nuclear device. The problem was that Beijing refused to lower the boom earlier, using its connections with disaffected pragmatists within the ruling clique while also curbing the flow of oil, grain and luxury goods that prop up Kim Jong Il‘s bankrupt regime. China did not want the nuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, but mistakenly believed that Pyongyang would not defy its only protector by going nuclear.