In This Review

Failed Diplomacy: The Tragic Story of How North Korea Got the Bomb
Failed Diplomacy: The Tragic Story of How North Korea Got the Bomb
By Charles L.Pritchard
Brookings Institution Press, 2007, 228 pp

In this valuable insider account of the Bush administration's tumultuous dealings with the Korean Peninsula, Pritchard -- who was the State Department's chief contact with Pyongyang until 2003 -- recounts the policy struggles and turning points that ran from President George W. Bush's decision to end the Clinton-era engagement of North Korea to the rise of "axis of evil" thinking and the counterproliferation doctrine, to North Korea's missile and nuclear tests, to the saga of the six-party talks. The book nicely captures the unending struggle within the U.S. government between two policy camps, "engagers" and "hard-liners." Pritchard argues that unresolved internal disputes meant that there were often two distinct policy tracks toward North Korea operating simultaneously, inevitably creating incoherence and mixed signals. Ultimately, Pritchard blames the hard-liners for the policy's failure, arguing that they subverted opportunities for taking practical steps that could have enhanced U.S. security. He argues that if the United States had been willing to provide security assurances and had made a credible offer to "coexist," the North Koreans would have given up their nuclear weapons program early on. Others will offer different judgments, but the book makes clear the central problem: Washington will not be able to reach negotiated settlements of crises until the deep ambivalence toward diplomacy within the current administration is settled.