November 24, 2010 | Commentary on National Security and Defense, North Korea

Obama’s Policies Encouraging North Korea

TV studios are packed with folks eager to tell us what the bad guys are thinking in the Land of the Morning Calm.  It’s as though they had a pipeline to Pyongyang.  They don’t.

All we know for sure is what the North Koreans have done in the past: used provocations to get the West’s attention and wring concessions from us. Indeed, YeonpyeongIsland—where South Korean military forces were shelled on Tuesday—has been the site of numerous past dust-ups.  The South Korean corvette Cheonan was just off Yeonpyeong when it was sunk by a North Korean torpedo this March.

North Korea probably wants what it usually wants: the West to ease pressure the regime. They want the U.S. to agree to back-off sanctions, abandon preconditions for negotiations, and hustle back to the Six-Party Talks, kicking in fresh accommodations along the way.

Pyongyang’s provocation was as predictable as it is lamentable. The Obama Doctrine relies first and foremost on negotiations and international organizations such as the United Nations to do the heavy lifting for American foreign policy.

But that protocol proved to be a bust, particularly where North Korea was concerned. That led President Obama to  shift his approach from carrot to stick… and rightly so. Just last month The Heritage Foundation’s Northeast Asia expert Bruce Klingner concluded the White House was headed in the right direction and cheered them to stay on course.

“The United States should continue to insist on tangible evidence that North Korean intends to resume its denuclearization commitments and address Seoul’s concerns about the Cheonan attack, before we agree to resume the six-party talks,” he wrote.  That was the right answer. It still is.

If the past is a predictor of future performance, this latest incident is yet another test of U.S. resolve. The worst thing the White House could do now is back down. The last thing Obama should expect, however, is that this is the end of it. More provocations might be ahead.  The U.S. needs to get its head in the game.

On Tuesday the White House stated clearly that the U.S. will defend its interests and allies. That’s good.  Now it must stop sending all the other signals that contradict that message.  The recent cascade of commissions calling for steep cuts on defense spending, scratching overseas bases, and drawing down our ability to project power could not have come at a worse time. http://blog.heritage.org/2010/11/22/no-to-further-cuts-in-the-defense-budget. Such signals that America wants to pull back from prior commitments to defend itself and its allies will only encourage future provocations far graver than a couple of hundred artillery rounds.

Jim Carafano is a senior fellow at The Hertage Foundation.

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

First appeared in Big Peace