Review Essay

The Fire Last Time

In This Review

Going Critical: The First North Korean Nuclear Crisis

Going Critical: The First North Korean Nuclear Crisis
By Joel S. Wit, Daniel B. Poneman, and Robert L. Gallucci
Brookings Institution Press, 2004, 448 pp. $32.95 Purchase

This October marks the tenth anniversary of the Geneva Agreed Framework, which was signed by Washington and Pyongyang on October 21, 1994, ending the first nuclear standoff with North Korea. There will be no champagne toast, however, to celebrate the occasion. The Agreed Framework, sharply contested by Republican critics at its inception and never fully implemented, has been effectively dead since October 2002, when Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly visited Pyongyang. On that trip, the Bush administration's first high-level contact with the North Korean government, Kelly asked his North Korean counterparts about their covert attempts to develop a highly enriched uranium bomb program in violation of the Agreed Framework. The North Koreans responded angrily to Kelly's charge but, in the process, admitted that he was right, thereby igniting the second North Korean nuclear crisis.

Today, many of the events of ten years ago seem to be repeating themselves. Although this crisis has several striking differences from the last one, the Bush administration would do well to study carefully the drama of 1993-94 and reflect on President Bill Clinton's choices before making its own. Fortunately, Washington has a powerful new tool to aid it in this task: Going Critical: The First North Korean Nuclear Crisis, a comprehensive insider's guide to the first North Korean nuclear standoff and an essential tool for comparing today's events to the last round. As the book makes clear, the stakes and the confusion of the original crisis could not have been greater; during its climax in 1994, Clinton even compared it to the Cuban missile crisis. Going Critical also underscores the changing risks of nuclear proliferation in what Yale's Paul Bracken has called the "second nuclear age" and expands on earlier accounts to offer an authoritative discussion of the events of the first crisis as viewed from Washington. Written with the rare benefit of special access to U.S. government documents and incorporating the personal experiences of its three authors, all of whom played significant roles in the events of 1993

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