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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