The United Nations' feckless defense of Security Council
resolutions demanding Pyongyang abandon its missile and nuclear
programs bodes ill for diplomatic efforts to denuclearize North
Korea and prevent further proliferation.
China's willingness to derail international efforts to punish
North Korea for its blatant violation plucks the fig leaf from the
cherished misconception of Beijing as a "responsible stakeholder."
The failure of diplomatic pressure to deter North Korea's
provocative missile launch is also a stark reminder of the need for
continued development and deployment of U.S. missile defense at a
time when the Obama administration instead plans to slash the
budget by 16 percent.
The administration chose consensus over confrontation at the
U.N. And as a result, in deference to veto-wielding China and
Russia, the U.N. Security Council was able to agree only on a
nonbinding presidential statement reiterating demands for
compliance with 3-year-old Resolutions 1695 and 1718.
North Korea predictably responded to President Obama's soft
touch by kicking out international inspectors, threatening to build
more nuclear weapons, abandoning all previous disarmament pledges
and vowing to "never return" to the already moribund Six Party
Talks. Pyongyang's escalating belligerence, including threats last
month against civilian airliners, eviscerates claims that it would
be more accommodating once President Bush left office. Prior to its
missile launch, Pyongyang rejected repeated Obama administration
invitations to bilateral dialogue.
Pyongyang's proscribed launch is a tangible manifestation of the
continuing threat that ballistic missiles pose to the United States
and its allies. Though depicted as a "failure," North Korea's
missile flight successfully more than doubled the previous range of
its missile threat and demonstrated Pyongyang's continuing intent
to develop the capability to threaten the entire United States with
a nuclear warhead.
It was reassuring that the U.S. and Japan had missile-defense
systems in place to provide protection had the test launch gone
astray. The absence of missile defense during a real threat
scenario would leave the U.S. with dangerously inadequate policy
choices of pre-emption or retaliation.
North Korea's defiance represents the first foreign policy test
of whether the Obama administration's actions will match its strong
rhetoric. Mr. Obama has asserted that "sanctions are a critical
part of our leverage to pressure North Korea to act. If the North
Koreans do not meet their obligations, we should move quickly to
reimpose sanctions that have been waived and consider new
restrictions going forward."
He insisted that "rules must be binding. Violations must be
punished. Words must mean something." The Obama administration's
response to North Korea's missile provocation must therefore send a
strong signal that Pyongyang cannot continue to benefit from
The U.S. has policy options; we lack only the resolve to
implement them. The administration should immediately utilize the
Security Council statement for initiating a multilateral effort to
freeze and seize the assets of any North Korean and foreign
government agency or company violating U.N. resolutions prohibiting
the procurement and export of missile- and WMD-related components
Nations should also resume enforcing international law against
North Korean or foreign entities complicit in Pyongyang's illegal
counterfeiting and drug-smuggling activities. The only time the
U.S. has really gotten North Korea's attention was three years ago,
when it designated Banco Delta Asia, a Macau-based bank, a "primary
money laundering concern" in facilitating North Korean
counterfeiting and drug smuggling.
At the same time, the U.S. should make clear that it leaves open
the door to the Six Party Talks as well as being amenable to adding
lanes in the road of engagement, including missile negotiations. A
more comprehensive strategy would offer Pyongyang a path to greater
economic and diplomatic benefits.
It's not a question of whether to engage North Korea, but of how
to do so. Engagement, like sanctions, is not an ends in itself but
rather a means to induce change. As such, it must be used in
conjunction with the full range of the instruments of national
power, including principled diplomacy, military deterrence, and
energetic enforcement of U.N. Security Council resolutions, U.S.
law and international law.
Negotiations should be based on principles of compliance,
conditionality, reciprocity and verification. The Obama
administration should not offer additional inducements to simply
buy Pyongyang's return to the negotiating table. Nor should any new
diplomatic initiatives be allowed to deflect attention from
Pyongyang's denuclearization requirements.
Some still advocate the failed policy of offering yet another
unconditional inducement to Pyongyang in the vain hope that it will
finally secure North Korean compliance. But like the glassy-eyed
gambler feeding yet another coin into a one-armed bandit, such a
policy offers little hope of success. During its last two years,
the Bush administration engaged in the direct, bilateral diplomacy
with Pyongyang that the Obama administration advocates today. Yet
North Korean intransigence, noncompliance and brinksmanship
There may simply be no set of inducements that ensures North
Korea abandons its nuclear weapons. There is a growing sense that
Pyongyang's antics and stalling tactics are not merely negotiating
ploys, but instead are designed to achieve international acceptance
of North Korea as a nuclear power. North Korean officials have
repeatedly indicated that is precisely their intention.
Washington should therefore discuss contingency plans with South
Korea and Japan, should the Six Party Talks no longer seem to be a
viable policy option. In coming months, Pyongyang will likely
engage in even more provocative behavior. The Obama administration
and its allies are in for an increasingly bumpy ride.
Bruce Klingner, is senior research
fellow for Northeast Asia in the Asian Studies Center at the