North Korea's nuclear ambitions have posed one of the most acute and complex foreign policy dilemmas for the Clinton administration and the nuclear nonproliferation regime. They are also an issue on which extreme differences remain. The author has produced a very informative and well-documented account of how the United States and North Korea have arrived at their current positions, and he has drawn some conclusions about the more general problem of nuclear proliferation. Mazarr makes clear that the Clinton administration, for all its inconsistency and occasional ineptness, deserves more credit than it has been given for avoiding a military confrontation. Although there are many critics of the nuclear freeze agreement, the author decides that if the deal is implemented, it will represent as near to a complete resolution of the nuclear issue as could realistically be imagined. He argues further that the United States and South Korea should not stall on their planned economic and political engagement of North Korea because locking Pyongyang in a bold embrace, while an imperfect approach, still offers a far better chance than isolation.
Based on numerous interviews with U.S. and South Korean government officials, the book sheds much light on the bureaucratic infighting in Washington and reaches some surprising conclusions. The Department of Defense was the most consistent dove because its highest priority was to avoid a war in Korea. The Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, on the other hand, took the hawkish side because of its concern for the integrity of the Nonproliferation Treaty. There are also intriguing insights into the role of the media, Congress, and foreign policy analysts outside the government.