War Profiteering -- Ordained by Providence?
April 30, 2003 11:40 PM   Subscribe

Former N. Korean Nuclear Contractors are "pretty sure that at some point Don was involved," since it was not unusual to seek help from board members "when we needed contacts with the U.S. government." An article in yesterday's Fortune mentions and quotes a number of former employees/contractors for a Swiss engineering firm -- headed by Donald Rumsfeld at the time that Pyongyang began getting its nuke on. Nevertheless, Today Rumsfeld, riding high after the Iraq war, is reportedly discussing a plan for "regime change" in North Korea. But his silence about the nuclear reactors raises questions about what he did--or didn't do--as an ABB director. unsurprisingly, the media is not exactly all over this.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly (25 comments total)
Indymedia and Fortune, together at last. Is this a valid case of alternative media whooping the mainstream media with an important story?
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 11:44 PM on April 30, 2003

Fortune definitely got the scoop on this one. I'm guessing as soon as the issue comes out (it says May 13th), it will cause more of a stir. Sometimes it takes a few days of festering before the mainstream thinks it's important.
posted by BloodyWallet at 12:04 AM on May 1, 2003

I heard first about this quite a while back. I'm wondering if the mainstream media is re-positioning itself into a more critical position of the current U.S. admin (one can dream) or this is just going to be treated the same way that the failure to unearth WMDs in "liberated" Iraq - business as usual.

In another time and era, Rumsfeld's hypothetical resignation could be the price to pay for not finding WMDs; but we are currently off those charts, so it's hard to tell.
posted by magullo at 4:21 AM on May 1, 2003

I think more than a few newsies read Metafilter, if not then they certainly read Blogdex, so get those blogs movin.
posted by CrazyJub at 5:28 AM on May 1, 2003

It's just part of the grand fucking circle, isn't it? Cheney and Halliburton, Rumsfeld and ABB... Ah, but I'm sure the right will find the story totally irrelevant to the discussion.
posted by kgasmart at 6:08 AM on May 1, 2003

Reminds me of Memento, where the protagonist keeps inventing new John Gs to find and kill in order to make up for what the boogeyman version of John G did in the past. We train and fund Osama, then he gets angry and attacks us, so we go try to kill him. We provide financial and military backing to Saddam, but then he does stuff we don't like, so we go try to kill him. We provide nuclear technology to Kim Jong Il so we can soon go try to kill him. On and on and on.

And the argument from a certain group of folks (Where is good old PP and Tech-no-logic when we need them?) is that who cares about the past - if we're responsible, we need to take care of the issue now. So at what point do we just keep hitting for the cycle - we let the hawks fund them so we can knock 'em down. "Pick up the gun, punk!"

The Patriot Act could easily be our national tattoo, the arms industry could collectively take Carrie Ann Moss's role, and Tony Blair could replace Joey Pants. I wonder how long before he does something we don't like and we turn on him too, - our new John G! - and we go and try to kill him.
posted by hank_14 at 6:48 AM on May 1, 2003

I may be stupid, but I don't get the big deal here....Rumsfeld served on the board of directors of a company that was very involved in this US government sponsored action? And, though he may have disagreeded with the action he effectively recused himself from the situation? What's evil there?
posted by pjgulliver at 7:00 AM on May 1, 2003

You people are idiots

So what if Rumsfeild helped build their US GOVERNMENT SANCTION LIGHT WATER REACTOR? You know the kind that THEY CAN'T USE TO MAKE NUKES?!. I don't see you people having a problem with the fact that Clinton's government actually made the deal. Why not? Oh yeah, because it doesn't matter.
posted by delmoi at 7:01 AM on May 1, 2003

Well the construction of those LW reactors wasn't exactly welcomed by the Republicans or Congress in general. IIRC, the LW reactors were suffering cost overrruns and were way behind schedule.

Frontline episode of the Korean issue (no mention of Rummy, but details the Agreed Framework for background)
posted by infowar at 8:13 AM on May 1, 2003


He certainly never made them public, even though the deal was criticized by many people close to Rumsfeld, who said weapons-grade nuclear material could be extracted from light-water reactors. Paul Wolfowitz, James Lilley, and Richard Armitage, all Rumsfeld allies, are on record opposing the deal. So is former presidential candidate Bob Dole, for whom Rumsfeld served as campaign manager and chief defense advisor.

I don't know enough about nuclear weapons creation to speak intelligently, but I assume Rumsfeld and his cronies do.

So easy on the "idiot" accusations there cowboy.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:37 AM on May 1, 2003

My understanding is that light-water fuelled reactors use only lightly enriched uranium. While it is possible I guess that if you collected enough spent fuel you could reprocess it to a degree, this would have to involve a huge amount of fuel continually taken from the reactors and reprocessed over a long period of time (to collect the necessary amount of fuel.) As the reactors were to be built and operated by an international consortium, this was hardly a risk.

Sure, people disagreed with the deal. However, it was a done decision of the US government. It was national policy. How exactly was Rumsfeld evil in this situation? It appears he had almost no connection to this from the Fortune article. So now the complete lack of any public connection is being used as evidence of a conspiracy?

Come on.
posted by pjgulliver at 8:42 AM on May 1, 2003

So if Rumsfeld is to be raked over the coals for this, what of Clinton and Carter, the men who agreed that it should be US policy to give DPRK a light water reactor? Also, please note that the nuclear reactor has not been built beyond foundation work, and in previous threads stavros and others have gone thermo over US perfidy in failing to live up to their end of the agreement as a major factor in the DPRK's decision to return to their plutonium-based nuke program. Please, Metafilter, be intellectually rigorous for once.

Relevant to this discussion: JackFlash's comment from a previous thread: The bottom line is that while U235 is bad, Pu239 is a hundred times worse. U235 is extremely difficult to isolate, limiting the quantities available. Pu239 can be created relatively easily in large quantities. U235 is deadly to handle while Pu239 is relatively safe, meaning anyone can make a weapon with it. U235 is difficult to smuggle while Pu239 is as easy to smuggle as BC bud. The Clinton strategy was to provide some aid to North Korea and conventional nuclear power plants in exchange for their promise to keep out of the large scale weapon business. This allowed the US inspectors to keep an eye on things. This strategy worked for 10 years although the Koreans may have cheated somewhat and scraped together a little U235 over the years. No one knows for sure.
posted by dhartung at 8:54 AM on May 1, 2003

pj and delmoi, watch the pot and the kettle conundrums.

The point is not that the deal wasn't orchestrated by the Clinton administration. I think KEDO and the agreed framework were some of the best diplomacy in the last 10 years and the sunshine policy was moving forward prior to the reevaluation by the Bush administration shortly after claiming office. The point is one of hypocrisy: providing weapons and technology to a country and then citing those weapons and technologies as a danger. That's not a hypocrisy faced by the CLinton administration - they were pushing for eventual full diplomatic normalization, not for placement on the axis of evil - but it is a problem for conservative hawks, and Rummy is one, who now see North Korea's nuclear program as a threat, even though Rummy played a hand in equipping them with necessary materials.

As for whether or not light-water reactors contribute to proliferation risk, it's undecided. A good summary by the BBC cites a non-prolif analyst who notes that illegal use of light-water reactors can produce weapons grade material. AEI points out that light water reactors also build in dependency on U.S. designs, they do not necessarily encourage non-proliferation. Of course, light water reactors are more difficult to use "illegally" and it was hoped that the cooperative building of these facilities would in itself reduce tensions and nuclear risks, but that's obviously not the climate that surrounds the building of those reactors today.

So let's review: point 1 - hypocrisy should be addressed, point 2 - light water would have worked better if we hadn't treated the North Koreans like ass.

Two conclusions: 1 - you should research and think prior to calling people bad names about shit you do not understand, and 2 - there is still no justification for Rummy's silence on the issue.
posted by hank_14 at 9:08 AM on May 1, 2003

Where is the confusion? Clinton and Carter pushed a containment policy, which the GOP decried while some of its members were making a cash profit on the side from dealing with the nasties. The same members that now want to go to war over what they sold in the first place. So Clinton and Carter(?) could have made a wrong policy decision, Rumsfeld was/is being, at the very least, an opportunistic and highly amoral/immoral person.
posted by magullo at 9:16 AM on May 1, 2003

Sure, people disagreed with the deal. However, it was a done decision of the US government. It was national policy. How exactly was Rumsfeld evil in this situation?

I would agree that there's nothing evil about this. About the only thing you can say is that Rumsfeld is a little hypocritical for currently being against negotiations (or giving into blackmail as they see it) with North Korea, while having been willing to profit from the so-called agreed framework (or blackmail) under Clinton.

Please, Metafilter, be intellectually rigorous for once.

It seems like what you're really asking for is intellectual consistency from Metafilter, which is a bit goofy. You can certainly ask for consistency from individual members, but I haven't seen stavros come into this thread and start raising hell over this issue.
posted by pitchblende at 9:17 AM on May 1, 2003

People. The threat of nuclear weapons in North Korea has nothing to do with the KEDO project. There is no hypocrisy here. North Korea in all likelyhood possessed a couple nuclear weapons in 1994. The Agreed Framework was meant to stop them developing any more and/or reprocessing the spent fuel from their own indigenous reactors that we have all heard so much about as of late.

Nothing about KEDO "armed" the North Koreans. KEDO has had absolutely no impact whatsoever on NKs ability to manufacture fissile material or working weapons.

Lastly, I don't see Rumsfeld as being hypocritical. The US government made a decision in 1994 to pursue the Agreed Framework. Afte that decision was made, how is possible hypocritical for Rumsfeld (hypothetically, remember, the article clearly states he never made public his views and was not associated publically with ABBs role here) as a private individual, working as a director of an engineering firm, to pursue that companies legal profit-making opportunities?

Dan, its great to see a post from you again. I've missed them.
posted by pjgulliver at 9:28 AM on May 1, 2003

So if Rumsfeld is to be raked over the coals for this, what of Clinton and Carter..

the question might be asked - what the hell are Rummy's buddies in the pentagon - and pentagon advisory board doing calling that policy a "failure" ? if their standard bearer was part of the policy itself?
posted by specialk420 at 9:46 AM on May 1, 2003

pjgulliver, you could, you know, try and read the referenced article:

"The threat of nuclear weapons in North Korea has nothing to do with the KEDO project"

Then why does Victor Gilinsky, who has held senior posts at the Atomic Energy Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, say: "Reprocessing the stuff is not a big deal . You don't even need special equipment. The KEDO people ignore this. And we're still building the damn things." And why does representative Edward Markey call them "nuclear bomb factories"?

"...Rumsfeld (hypothetically, remember, the article clearly states he never made public his views and was not associated publicly with ABBs role here) as a private individual, working as a director of an engineering firm, to pursue that companies legal profit-making opportunities?

Errrr - According to the article, the same year that ABB was invited to bid, Rumsfeld chaired a blue-ribbon panel commissioned by Congress to examine classified data on ballistic missile threats. The commission concluded that North Korea could strike the U.S. within five years. (Weeks after the report was released, it fired a three-stage rocket over Japan.) The Rumsfeld Commission also concluded that North Korea was maintaining a nuclear weapons program--a subtle swipe at the reactor deal, which was supposed to prevent such a program. Rumsfeld's resume in the report did not mention that he was an ABB director.

That is not what I call a "private individual"; that is what I call a "vested individual".
posted by magullo at 9:53 AM on May 1, 2003

Someone should also point out that at the time Rumsfeld was nothing more than a corporate board member and retired civil servant from the Ford administration.

In fact, but for bad ballot design, he would be spending his days on the links, not changing the world.
posted by ednopantz at 9:57 AM on May 1, 2003

So if Rumsfeld is to be raked over the coals for this, what of Clinton and Carter, the men who agreed that it should be US policy to give DPRK a light water reactor....Please, Metafilter, be intellectually rigorous for once.

Let's see. You whine that MetaFilter should be "intellectually rigorous for once", while you withhold scorn (if you have any) for the "intellectual rigor" of someone like Rumsfeld, who doesn't mind making a few bucks from his company supplying North Korea with nuclear weapons, all while "there is no evidence that Rumsfeld, who took a keen interest in the company's nuclear business and attended most board meetings, made his views about the project known to other ABB officials. He certainly never made them public, even though the deal was criticized by many people close to Rumsfeld, who said weapons-grade nuclear material could be extracted from light-water reactors. Paul Wolfowitz, James Lilley, and Richard Armitage, all Rumsfeld allies, are on record opposing the deal. So is former presidential candidate Bob Dole, for whom Rumsfeld served as campaign manager and chief defense advisor. And Henry Sokolski, whose think tank received funding from a foundation on whose board Rumsfeld sat, has been one of the most vocal opponents of the 1994 agreement."

And it's funny. I hadn't heard that Clinton and Carter (like Rumsfeld) were serving on the boards of directors of corporations that profited from the sale of nuclear technology to North Korea, while their ideologial cronies were decrying such programs. Thank goodness someone went all thermo, found that information for us, showed in an intellectually rigorous manner how Clinton and Carter's actions were just like Rumsfeld's, and posted all that here.


And if Democrats Clinton and Carter are disingenuously to be raked over the coals for this light water reactor stuff, what of Reagan and Bush I's contribution to the current crisis, and Bush II's proliferation of the same (no doubt there's a rigorous reason those three particular Republicans and Republicans in general weren't mentioned in a rigorous discussion of the genesis of this nightmare):

- "Apparently under Chinese and Soviet pressure, neither the IAEA nor the Reagan or Bush administrations brought pressure on DPRK to complete its inspections arrangement with the IAEA, despite this clear violation of the NPT", and who thus may have fumblingly made possible the production of North Korea's first nuclear weapons ("as a consequence, in 1989 the DPRK was able to shut down its 5 megawatt reactor at Yongbyon for about three months with no IAEA inspectors present. It is suspected of having then removed fuel containing enough plutonium for one or two bombs for its nuclear-weapons program. The DPRK did not enter into an NPT safeguards agreement with the IAEA until 1992, more than six years after joining the treaty").

- "It is ironic that the reprocessing happened on [Bush administration I] Jim Baker's watch. So this is not a partisan issue. It would have been better to have stopped North Korea years ago, Faced with the situation in 1994, was it better for nonproliferation and for the protection of South Korea and Japan to have a deal which freezes and dismantles the program, or to have allowed North Korea to reprocess what they have and develop a larger arsenal? Compared with the alternatives, the agreement is much better. One alternative was bombing the reprocessing facility. Another was United Nations sanctions. Either might have caused a large conventional war. It would have been nice if, back in the early 1990s, somebody had prevented the North Koreans from reprocessing in the first place."

- The front page post itself notes that the current [Bush II} administration ....still hasn't abandoned the project. Representative Edward Markey and other Congressmen have been sending letters to Bush and Rumsfeld, asking them to pull the plug on the reactors, which Markey calls "nuclear bomb factories." Nevertheless, a concrete-pouring ceremony was held last August, and Westinghouse sponsored a training course for the North Koreans that concluded in October--shortly before Pyongyang confessed to having a secret uranium program, kicked inspectors out, and said it would start making plutonium. The Bush administration has suspended further transfers of nuclear technology, but in January it authorized $3.5 million to keep the project going.

Clinton and Carter? Kinda looks like they were trying to clean up quite a mess made by others, and without lining their pockets...all while Rumsfeld was playing nice with the folks who helped get us into this mess, playing both sides of the fence, and making big bucks off it to boot. So much for his intellectual rigor and integrity, and so much for the intellectual rigor of any right wing ideologues who turn a blind eye to such hypocrisy and greedy flimflam.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 1:15 PM on May 1, 2003

MetaFilter: Links as a weapon.

(And a damn good one too. Thanks, fold_and_mutilate.)
posted by Wulfgar! at 3:07 PM on May 1, 2003

fold_and_mutilate: The LW reactor has nothing to do with any kind of weapons. Stop saying it does. The damn thing hasn't even been built!

Nothing rumsfeild has done has helped NK get a nuke.

And you're also calling him a hypocrate because other people he frequently agrees with were opposed to the deal. Yeah, that's resonable...
posted by delmoi at 4:59 PM on May 1, 2003

f&m, you don't seem to have any interest in changing your tactics of personal baiting, invective labeling, and even the occasional unsubtle Nazi reference; I wish you'd respect this community more, but I don't have the power to change your behavior. I will ask you to refrain for one single post.

As you well know, I consider myself a liberal democrat, so I'll just assume you were trying to get a rise out of me with the "right wing ideologue" label. You bring in the Reagan and Bush administrations apparently with the idea that you'll paint me into some kind of corner by defending them. Unlike you, I don't take such partisan positions, and in fact I disdain them.

My rigor, since you ask, pertains to a consistent policy towards North Korea of graduated pressure with an invariable goal of achieving peaceful resolution of the division of the peninsula and a rollback of any nuclear escalation. This applies equally to both Republican and Democratic administrations. I would agree with you, if it surprises you, that the ca. 1990 activities of the DPRK were of great concern, but I don't agree that it was the "fault" of the US administrations at the time, given the following points: US influence was extremely limited (a point to which you yourself allude above); what influence we did have was exercised through our contacts with Beijing and Moscow; the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and USSR occupied much of our resources, as did Gulf War I and Chinese human rights; the DPRK missile capability was much weaker at the time; and the DPRK nuclear program was thought to be some years away from success. Given the dramatic and sudden rollback of Communism from Dresden to Vladivostok -- far beyond anyone's expectations in the day -- there was every reason to take the optimistic view that liberalization would follow in North Korea and overtake their risky behavior. I hold the US to a higher standard following the Agreed Framework because we had entered into a bilateral relationship and we had begun materially supporting the DPRK regime. Our missteps following 1994 were therefore of a more serious nature. The failings of the Clinton/Carter team on this issue are specific, not general: I don't think they failed just because they were Democrats. I think the Agreed Framework was too generous; I think it was agreed to too quickly; and I think that the Clinton administration fell short of its own goals in using the Framework to force behavioral changes on the DPRK regime. (Clinton's failings, especially in foreign policy, revolve chiefly around his letting agendas be set for him by opponents, his overeagerness to resolve and shelve crises, and around his attention-deficit disorder with regard to longer-term policy maintenance. Without those key flaws, and the blowjobs, to this day there is no one who I would rather have as President than Bill Clinton; does that sound like the ideologue portrait with which you bait me?) Thus I recognize the successes and the failures of both Republican and Democratic administrations on this issue.

You, on the other hand, seem to have no consistency with regard to policy, other than the rather obvious nukes are bad. Giving DPRK light-water reactors? For Democrats, "making the best of a bad situation"; for Republicans, "contributing to the mess". I can't tell: do you think we should give them the reactors or not? If their behavior changes, should our policy change? Or does your position change depending on who's in office at the time? This is what I mean about consistency. Oh, there is one consistency I can find in your post: If Rumsfeld did it, it's bad. If Rumsfeld continues in office to hold the same policy as when he was in the private sector, that's bad. If Rumsfeld changes his policy, that's also bad. Well, you can say you're consistent. But it doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense, except to show that you don't like Rumsfeld, Republicans, defense contractors, and the like. To my eye, Rumsfeld remains consistent: performing legal actions that do not contradict US government policy, and indeed support it directly. That is, to the extent he was involved at all, which is really only insinuated. He certainly hasn't promoted giving the DPRK nuclear weapons, as you falsely assert, since it is the US policy (the "making the best of a bad situation" as you put it) to redirect their program from weapons to peaceful purposes. Under the Agreed Framework, DPRK was supposed to submit to IAEA monitoring. Given that the reactors promised have not been built, and given that even if they are built you yourself are saying this is the best situation for which we can hope, it's really hard to understand how you come up with your indictments of the man. Any nuclear technology they have received has nothing to do with the ABB involvement in the US-Japan KEDO project, because that project is hardly even begun. The KEDO project is not so much a matter of technology transfer as it is of investment; without financial support from the USSR and PRC, the regime can't even afford to build more of its crummy old reactors. The capability to build nuclear reactors and possibly/probably nuclear weapons already exists and came from indigenous efforts and direct support from other regimes such as Pakistan. To assert otherwise is simply to make fallacious connections for the sake of a vivid label.

Now here comes the favor. Will you reply to this post and describe your consistent, rigorous idea of what policy toward North Korea should be, irrespective of what administration is involved in implementing that policy? Or are you simply calculatedly interested in using the North Korea issue as a hook for your constant critiques of the Bush administration? Please; impress me. I'm leveling with you like an adult; can you do the same?
posted by dhartung at 11:09 PM on May 1, 2003

I'd consider going thermo again here [insert winking smiley], but I'm in too good a mood this afternoon.

Interesting discussion. I await more.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:18 AM on May 2, 2003

(But I will add, following in dhartung's non-partisan-line-toeing spirit, that regardless of my personal feelings about the current American administration and issues arising out of their new geopolitical doctrines, I would nonetheless love to see American forces go in heavy and turn Kim JI and his regime into grease stains, if it did not mean millions dead in Seoul as well. That last, of course, is the tricky part.)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:25 AM on May 2, 2003

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