The North Koreans shut down the Yongbyon nuclear reactor under IAEA supervision.

This is probably a result of Chinese pressure.

The North Koreans negotiate in bad faith. They violated the 1994 treaty with the US and took advantage of President Clinton’s lack of enforcement. They violated the treaty immediately and developed a nuclear weapon programme.

The United States has no diplomatic leverage over North Korea. North Korea’s asymmetrical advantage means they can demand US appeasement and never face retaliation. This leads to an escalation game, where the North Koreans can demand appeasement, violate the treaty, and demand more appeasement. Any bilateral negotiation between the US and North Korea will fail.

In particular, the Koreans want money, foodstuffs, and basic technology. They use nuclear weapons as a bargaining chip. The entire region is more terrified of a North Korean collapse than nuclear weapons. South Korea wants North Korea appeased to keep it contained.

The only country with true diplomatic leverage over NK is China. They provide NK with the necessary resources to survive as a nation-state. When they want to influence North Korean policies, they can withhold supply and oil shipments. This is the key to enforcing any treaty.

Multilateral negotiations is a way to influence China. Basically, the United States has no leverage over North Korea. However, the US can influence Japanese policies. The US is encouraging the Japanese to rebuild their military and possibly develop nuclear weapons of their own. This spooks the Chinese who do not want to trigger an arms race with Japan (and India, Russia, and the US). This encourages China to seek a “peaceful” solution to the North Korean situation by reeling the Koreans back in.

Perhaps more importantly, the Chinese are worried about the North Koreans too. More and more refugees are fleeing across the border to China. Fake merchandise is smuggled across the border too.

Even supply shipments to the NK government are not simple affairs. This is a telling story about how bizarre the North Korean really is. The Chinese send many critical supplies by railroad. Recently, North Korea unpacked the goods and stole the trains. The Chinese, rather perplexed, asked for their trains back. The North Koreans refused and demanded more shipments so they could steal more trains.

With allies like this, it is no surprise that the Chinese ‘negotiated’ in secret with the North Koreans to encourage North Korea nuclear disarmament. Will this truly work over the long term? Probably not. The Chinese may encourage a reformist takeover of North Korea over the long-term. There are some North Korean officials who view China as a new model for communism. The current NK government is reactionary and currently represses any reformist impulse. The Chinese probably want a more reliable government over the long term.

The Multinational Negotiations will resume in Beijing. The North Koreans get their shipments of oil and they shut down the reactor. Now they’ll play hard until the Chinese tell them to make concessions.