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Meltdown: The Inside Story of the North Korean Nuclear Crisis Hardcover – August 5, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The Bush administration's bellicose but feckless attempts to quash North Korea's nuclear weapons program were the nadir of its famously maladroit diplomacy, to judge by this revealing blow-by-blow. Ex-CNN Pyongyang correspondent Chinoy details the rancorous infighting during which hardliners like John Bolton and Dick Cheney talked down State Department doves to impose an intransigent North Korea policy, replacing negotiations with Axis-of-Evil rhetoric and unilateral demands. Their approach backfired disastrously, he argues, as Pyongyang restarted and escalated its dormant nuclear initiative and finally tested an atom bomb while the U.S. fulminated helplessly—a needless outcome, he suggests, given the North Koreans' oft-expressed readiness to abandon their nuclear program in exchange for aid and normalized relations. Chinoy presents a lucid exposition of the issues along with a colorful account of diplomatic wrangling in which U.S. officials rivaled their North Korean counterparts in dogmatism and prickly sensitivity to niceties. (One joint statement was almost derailed when the Americans insisted on changing the phrase peaceful coexistence to exist peacefully together.) His is a fine, insightful diplomatic history of a dire confrontation—and a hard-hitting critique of the Bush administration's foreign policy. Photos. (Aug. 7)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

North Korea exploded an atomic bomb in October 2006, representing the failure of American diplomacy to thwart the country’s nuclear ambition. Chronicled here by former CNN reporter Chinoy, that diplomacy came in two flavors: negotiations favored by the Clinton administration, and a more confrontational approach preferred by the successor Bush administration. That neither succeeded probably says more about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a despotic Stalinist relic, than it does about the merits of carrots versus sticks, but that debate dominates Chinoy’s narrative. Clearly critical of sticks, Chinoy plainly gained greater access to advocates of negotiation than to its skeptics, and none to relevant North Korean officials. But the latter appear at one remove in the impressions of Americans who bargained with them, rendering a picture of North Korea’s truculent belligerence on the nuclear issue. Depicting, too, the politics within the D.C. foreign policy bureaucracy, Chinoy extensively quotes major players’ viewpoints, pegging their strategies and tactics to milestones on the path to the present impasse. A lively journalistic review of the past decade in U.S.–North Korean relations. --Gilbert Taylor
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First Edition edition (August 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312371535
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312371531
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,669,006 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Journalist Mike Chinoy provides a detailed, readable, and highly informative account of the long running nuclear dispute with North Korea, starting with the 1992-94 crisis that was averted by Jimmy Carter's visit, the progress and understanding of the Clinton years that led to the Agreed Framework, and the near establishment of Diplomatic relations, the confrontation, rhetoric, and ultimately proliferation of the Bush years, and ultimately the mess the Obama Administration has inherited.
While the North's motivations cannot be accurately ascertained, it would appear that the ultimate driving force is the need for security. The DPRK began its nuclear program in the wake of the Western victory of the Cold War and the end of Soviet Support, a climate wherein many in the West viewed the collapse of the regime as inevitable. The understanding of security was almost sealed under Clinton, in the visit of Marshall Jo Myong Rok to the White House in October 2000, leading to the agreed declaration of no hostile intent, and Madeleine Albright's subsequent visit to Pyongyang. What followed was an Administration unwilling to disavow the use of force against the DPRK, and steadfast in its refusal to recognize the sovereignty of the country.
It becomes clear from reading that while former president George Bush had almost no opinion on North Korea before taking office, members of the administration such as Donald Rumsfeld, who led a commission calling for the abandonment of the Agreed Framework in the late 90s, and John Bolton, another long term critic of the Clinton era diplomacy, had hawkish designs on the DPRK long before September 11th.
The hawks in the Bush administration had designs on both the Agreed Framework, and the 1972 Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty.
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Format: Kindle Edition
If you've ever wanted to know how the Bush administration managed to miss the biggest foreign policy threat of our times (North Korea going nuclear) by incompetent infighting and preoccupation with an unnecessary crisis (invading the wrong country), Mike Chinoy lays it out in great detail for you. Profoundly researched and well presented material, very readable prose. Given the severity of the subject matter I wouldn't call this book "a joy to read", but Mike does grab and keep your attention.
Very well painted pictures of the main characters, most of whom are still in very responsible positions today. Highly recommend.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Excellent book on what is going on inside North Korea; one of the better one's out there.
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Format: Hardcover
In this excellent book, former CNN correspondent Mike Chinoy argues that the American failure to prevent North Korea from getting a nuclear bomb was the result of a combination of vicious, petty, and paralyzing bureaucratic warfare in Washington, an American unwillingness to negotiate, and North Korean brinkmanship.

Chinoy makes his case through a well-written, surprisingly exciting, and scrupulously fair account of the personalities, events, and decisions that made (and broke) Bush administration's often-confusing North Korea policies. The high quality of this reporting is clearly a reflection of the thoroughness and fairness of Chinoy's research: he seems to have interviewed just about everyone who is anyone in North Korea policy-making, from John Bolton to Colin Powell, and he gives all the sides their due.

Chinoy - who has been to North Korea something like 14 times, and reported on the North Korea issue for CNN for years - also offers some insights into why Pyongyang has often made seemingly irrational and dangerous decisions over the last eight or ten years. It's worth noting here that this is not the same thing as excusing or apologizing for North Korea's considerable duplicity and cruelty. Rather, Chinoy's examination of North Korean motives is a valuable and interesting contribution to our limited understanding of one of the most opaque countries in the world. To dismiss this as simply making excuses for North Korea's bad behavior is a gross and unfair oversimplification of a much more complex and sophisticated argument.

Bottom line: Meltdown is, without a doubt, the definitive account of the North Korean nuclear crisis. It is a brilliantly reported, exceptionally even-handed, and insightful book - and a must-read for anyone who wants to genuinely understand one of the most pressing and vital US foreign policy challenges today.
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Format: Hardcover
"Meltdown" tells how the U.S.' refusal to engage in serious diplomacy spurred North Korea to stage its nuclear breakout testing missiles and a nuclear bomb, followed by de-escalation after six years of needless brinkmanship led by the Bush administration. En route, President Bush also managed to personally insult the heads of North and South (also a Nobel Peace Prize winner) Korea, as well as his own chief negotiator and Secretary of State, undercut the logic of U.S. actions vs. Iraq (by largely ignoring N.K.), again rely on dubious intelligence for major decision-making, and display a general lack of common sense (eg. risking progress on nuclear issues to pursue a questionable impoundment of $25 million of N.K. funds.

This same cowboy diplomacy pattern ("we don't negotiate - capitulate, then we'll talk" was was followed vs. Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and Iran - where it also failed, with disastrous results.

In between, the reader is left wondering why Secretary of State Powell tolerated the treatment he and his department received (several of his underlings involved with N.K. resigned), amazed at the V.P. Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's close involvement in the N.K. issue - instead of avoiding Iraq War II and managing it better, perplexed by Secretary Rice's ineptness, and disappointed by the disjointed and childish decision-making (eg. screaming matches; "We won't talk to them because they're bad") at high levels of government.

North Korea doesn't come out blameless in Chinoy's account either, though at least there is rationale for its actions.

Bottom Line: "Meltdown" provides a credible and detailed accounting of how we almost incited Korean War II, possibly even WWIII. Administration actions in this instance parallel those taken vs. Russia, Iraq, and Palestine.
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