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The Change toward Cooperation in the George W. Bush Administration’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy toward North Korea


Jonas Schneider

This book offers a case study in foreign policy change: It examines why the Bush administration suddenly redirected its nuclear nonproliferation policy toward North Korea in the aftermath of North Korea’s first nuclear test in October 2006, abandoning its former confrontational approach in favor of a more accommodating line. Existing explanations of this course reversal draw on the security implications of a growing crisis on the Korean Peninsula, U.S. domestic politics, and changing decision-making dynamics within the Bush administration. Employing before-after comparison, the study refutes these accounts – and it offers an alternative explanation: The Bush administration altered its nonproliferation policy toward North Korea toward a cooperative course because after the nuclear test, it perceived fundamentally improved prospects for fruitful cooperation on North Korea’s denuclearization.


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5 The Implications of North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Program for the Security of the United States 63


5 The Implications of *orth Korea’s *uclear Weapons Program for the Security of the United States Having analyzed the degree to which the Bush administration’s nuclear nonpro- liferation policy toward North Korea changed after the nuclear test, the focus now turns to why the Bush team undertook this major foreign policy redirection. This chapter will examine the implications of North Korea’s nuclear arms pro- gram for the security of the United States as a first potential reason for the shift in U.S. policy. If the Bush administration perceived the threat from North Ko- rea’s nuclear program after the nuclear test as significantly higher than before the test, it may have softened its nonproliferation policy toward Pyongyang in order to contain this heightened threat. Testing this hypothesis, the chapter will analyze first how the Bush adminis- tration perceived the implications of the North Korean nuclear program for U.S. security, and its options to mitigate these threats, prior to the nuclear test. Sub- sequently, the analysis will turn to the administration’s threat assessment and view of its options after the test. An interim conclusion will evaluate if the im- plications of the North’s nuclear program for American security can account for the change in U.S. policy. 5.1 The Bush Administration’s View before the *uclear Test The Bush administration’s pre-nuclear-test appraisal of the threats emanating from the North Korean nuclear weapons program was shaped by three strategic assessments: First, the Bush administration considered a North Korean nuclear weapons capability as an established fact....

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