A New Strategy Needed on North Korea

Fred Gedrich is a foreign policy and national security analyst, and served in the Departments of Defense and State, traveling to more than 50 overseas missions on official U.S. government assignments.


North Korea’s rogue regime recently conducted its third, and most powerful, nuclear test.  Two months earlier it also defied the international community (e.g., United Nations Security Council) by successfully launching a satellite into space on a long-range ballistic missile. This puts the regime closer to having a fully-armed nuclear weapon and missile delivery system and exposes current Obama administration policy toward North Korea as woefully inadequate.  The U.S. urgently needs to adopt new strategies and policies to curb this growing threat.

North Korea presents the U.S. with one of its most difficult foreign policy challenges.  Among other things, it started the 1950-1953 Korean War and now regularly provokes South Korea, Japan and the United States; abuses citizens with gulag prison camps and doesn’t allow them to freely elect their leaders; ignores U.N. Security Council resolutions and reneges on international agreements with impunity; and reportedly has illegally shipped weapons of mass destruction technology to dangerous places like Iran, Libya, Pakistan, Syria and Yemen.  Moreover, established democracy and human rights watchdogs consider it among the world’s worst dictatorships.

Since North Korea gained statehood in 1948 – courtesy of the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin – this Korean Peninsula nation of nearly 25 million people has been ruled exclusively by the Kim Dynasty (Kim Il Sung; his son Kim Jong-il and his grandson Kim Jong-un) under a totalitarian Stalinist military-style government. This isolated, impoverished and belligerent country maintains one of the world’s largest armies but depends on foreign aid for food and fuel.  It has a strong relationship with Russia, while China serves as its chief benefactor and protector.

The Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations have used diplomacy and $2 billion in food and fuel enticements as the prime means to harness North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.  However, North Korea broke every major promise in President Clinton’s 1994 bilateral Agreed Framework, President Bush’s 2003 multilateral Six-Party Talks, and President Obama’s 2012 bilateral Leap Day Agreement.  It also violated every U.N. Security Council resolution (including UNSC 1695, 1718, 1874 and 2087) aimed at stopping the regime’s nuclear weapons development program.

Campaigning for U.S. President in 2008, Obama promised “to pursue the kind of direct and aggressive diplomacy with North Korea that can yield results,” with the goal being the “complete and verifiable elimination” of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.  That diplomatic strategy spectacularly failed.  During his presidency, North Korea exploded a nuclear device in 2009, launched two ballistic missiles in 2012, and detonated its latest nuclear device in February 2013.

President Obama is now confronted with the profound question on North Korea of “where do we go from here?”  Some suggestions follow:

1.  Don’t continue pursuing failed policies, especially bilateral U.S./North Korea negotiations, with North Koreans and expect different results.  Moreover, South Korea and Japan should always be a part of, or lead, any negotiation that directly impacts their national security.

2.  Don’t expect the U.N. Security Council to pass tougher resolutions with North Korean protectors China and Russia wielding veto pens, especially since they are gradually slipping back to their old totalitarian ways with hardline leaders and Cold War-era mindsets.

3.  Rethink and redo U.S. treaties and agreements with South Korea and Japan, which make those countries, to varying degrees, too dependent on the U.S. for protection.  Those free, prosperous and technically advanced nations are quite capable of defending themselves from threats emanating for North Korea, China and elsewhere with far-less U.S. support.

4.  Don’t oppose the efforts of Japan’s new PM to amend Article 9 of the country’s pacifist constitution which currently requires Japan to renounce war as a sovereign right and allows the U.S. to maintain an in-country military presence to protect it.

5.  Work with South Korea to expand broadcasting and other information operations to inform the North Korean people about their own country and the outside world.  An informed public may serve as the catalyst to change their repressive government.

6.  Urge the U.S. Congress to pass a resolution for presidential signature condemning North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and proliferation activities and also saying that the U.S. formally supports North and South Korea reunification as a free country. While symbolic, it would send a clear message to friends and foes that the U.S. considers North Korean regime change as the penultimate solution to the problem.

President Obama appropriately condemned North Korea’s latest nuclear test and missile launch as provocative and threats to U.S. national security and international peace and security.  However, words and continuing failed U.S. strategies and policies (e.g., relying on U.N.-driven diplomacy, unreliable Chinese and Russian partners, and appeasement) are not going to solve the North Korean nuclear weapons development problem. Progress on this issue requires a new policy direction accompanied with innovative ideas and firm leadership.

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  • phill

    us needs to sort this hot potatoe out ! , making smaller more powerful nukes , bigger long range missiles ,,,,, what you think his end goal is !! if he has 1 ? , he is a syco after all ! , doesnt what hes up 2 come into the terrorism act !!!!!!!!! .phill

  • watsa46

    China 7 Russia are using Iran & N-K to try to undermine the West and the US in particular. Should the US intervene. Probably not. Any attempt by Iran or N-K will backfire against Russia and or China.. Proximity is a major problem for both countries.

  • Drew

    Check out my poem written on this very topic. Comment if you like it (or hate it !)
    http://connecthook.wordpress.com/2013/02/16/%E2%9

    • watsa46

      Anybody to the whole people of a country can be brainwashed into an imposed choreography. The rest of the people is in the Korean gulag. There it is another kind of deadly choreography.

  • BLJ

    I think it is payback time for the USS Pueblo. Those bastards are still displaying that ship as a trophy. Wait, I forgot. We have an inept Muslim Statist in the WH.

  • Flowerknife_us

    Obama will do nothing.Democrats gave them the Technology and have always argued to let them keep it on conditions. Conditions never enforced by Demoncrats and blocked as much as possible when Republicans are in power.

    The worst Demoncrat is in power now and his mantra of "fundamental change" runs openly to the far left.

    While the "far left" has been Americas traditional enemy sense Marx was known on the North American Continent.

  • ADM

    North Korea and other states pursuing nuclear weapons have done so because – in addition to any other foreign policy goals they may have – they believe that possessing such weapons renders them immune to attack, certainly by conventional means. This ensures the survival of their regime from external change. As long as we continue to validate that belief by treading lightly around minor nuclear powers or aspiring nuclear powers, nuclear weapons will proliferate. Now, maybe such states will behave responsibly; maybe they won't. In any case, it makes for a vastly more complicated strategic situation, and not just for us. The potential for regional nuclear proliferation increases and with the potential for regional nuclear war. The latter becomes more likely because regional powers lack the physical separation that allowed for some reaction time or the secure second strike capabilities we and the USSR enjoyed. Thus, the value of a first strike can be high. Proliferation also makes it more difficult for us to track weapons developments or to estimate behavior: our record was poor with just the USSR to focus on.

  • ADM

    In my opinion, proliferation will continue until we make an example of one of these powers, using either deep penetrating conventional or nuclear weapons to destroy the arsenals of these states. Then, dare them to launch a conventional counterstrike under the threat of full-scale nuclear retaliation if they do so. Messy and destructive? Yes. Possibly huge casualties in the target country? Yes. But it's either that, allow states like Japan and South Korea (and Saudi Arabia) to counter-proliferate, or learn to live with the risk. Remember, North Korea's nuclear program was spared attack even when it was vulnverable because we feared to fight a real war; Iran noticed that. They've also noticed that we haven't even hinted at touching North Korea since it acquired nukes. And, of course, Pakistan, which supports the Taliban and shelters Al Quaeda gets a free pass too.

  • John Stone

    A side issue here is that we have allowed nations to make war on us by proxy. That is what some terrorist attacks are. If a nation supports terrorist organizations, than an attack by a state supported terrorist organization should be treated as an attack by the nation that supports the terrorist organization.

    The same thing applies here between North Korea and China. If China supports North Korea, then an attack from North Korea would be an attack by China. A good starting point in dealing with this would be to start a discussion as to whether a nuclear attack by Korea should be regarded as an attack by China. If so, than both China and North Korea should be targeted for nuclear retaliation.

  • g_jochnowitz

    North Korea is a committed member of the Marxist-Islamic Alliance. It needs to produce nuclear weapons so that North Korea and Iran can fight their enemy, Israel. http://www.jochnowitz.net/Essays/NorthKorea.html

  • Ignatz

    Looks like North Korea is standing up for pure Communism and even dis-engaging with the Red Chinese as they are clearly not buying into the International Sharia Socialist blueprint as NK is going with their own brand of communism. Members of the Chinese Communist Party, MII, and the PLA are probably not even aware that they have been deeply infiltrated by Haqqani. I guess "The Best Secretary of State Ever" and her assistant, Mrs. Weiner, did not inform the Chinese in order to prevent these events. The Chinese Communist Party, MII, and The PLA now have Egg Foo Young on their face. How do you say "Sharia Me Baby" in Red Chinese? Amazing how they missed this since North Korea and Pakistan have a special relationship. Will this impact the morale of the Chinese PLA as they move into Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan? Looks like that "One World, One Dream" iss not working out so well…

  • Atikva

    Did you notice how these communist states promptly become run by dynasties?

    In North Korea, Kim Jong-un succeeded his father Kim Jong-il, the Eternal General Secretary of the Workers' Party, who succeeded his father the Eternal President Kim Il-sung. In Cuba, Raúl Castro succeeded his brother Fidel as President & Premier. In China, Mao’s wife who tried to succeed him to rule the country together with the other members of “The gang of Four”.

    Do these socialists dream of anything else but install their own dynasty?

  • raster

    Ridiculous. Project a bullet into the brain of this bloated North Korean punk and be rid of him. Another idiot thug on the world stage and we all stand around wringing our hands about it. Danger . . . threat . . . rogue regime . . . new strategy needed. . . !! So this punk DOES run us like a well-trained dog?!

    Remember Saddam Hussein's rathole–put this punk into HIS rathole, but don't wait for trial and hanging. It's time we stopped playing nice with these punk thugs around the world.

    • John Stone

      For all we know little-fat-faced-guy may only be the front man for the military.

  • JDavis

    "Among other things, it started the 1950-1953 Korean War…"

    That is, a civil war that was almost over before we jumped into it. Since then we've jumped into almost sixty conflicts in sixty years, which suggests that we are the rogue nation, not NK.

  • κατεργάζομαι

    His father successfully used this tactic in the past and it worked.

    Eventually, under the Bush administration, the US took the near unprecedented step of suspending food shipments for lack of progress in the talks.

    Kim doesn't have nearly the experience as his father and this tactic may be even riskier given the plight of the peasants.

    A revolt by ordinary citizens is extremely unlikely, but in the bizarro world of the North Korean leadership clique, another faction may make a play for power if there is unrest in the provinces due to lack of food.

  • John Stone

    At some point a nuclear weapon will be used by some 'emerging' nation. Hopefully, from that time going forward we will start dealing realistically with nations like North Korea. Now we have everything on hold and hope nothing bad happens.