In This Review

Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis
Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis
By Mike Chinoy
St. Martin's Press, 2008, 432 pp

It would be best not to have to rely on a nuclear taboo to restrain North Korea, and so attempts to prevent its acquisition of nuclear weapons have been a high priority for both the Clinton and the George W. Bush administrations. As Pyongyang is now suspected to have a small nuclear arsenal, it is clear that these efforts have failed, although there has been more success in limiting the potential size of the arsenal by getting the Yongbyon reactor shut down. Chinoy has produced what will undoubtedly be the definitive account of the tortuous negotiations that produced this result. It benefits from excellent sources in both Koreas and in the United States and relates every twist and turn (there have been many) in the talks. North Korea was a founding member of Bush's "axis of evil," and the president spoke of his deep dislike for North Korea's supreme leader, Kim Jong Il. Accordingly, this story provides another example of the Bush administration's reluctance to engage with authoritarian and bankrupt regimes, lest they be granted an undeserved legitimacy or lest the administration find itself appeasing such regimes -- until the persistence of these regimes leaves the administration with little choice but to engage with them.