Stopping North Korea
Only US can do so ― if only it really wants to
The number one concern among regional experts these days is whether or when Pyongyang will conduct its third nuclear test. We don’t pretend to know better than others but, like any other longtime watchers of North Korea, can bet the reclusive regime will do so someday soon if not tomorrow.
The U.S., South Korean and Japanese governments also seem to think so. The allies’ increasingly frequent hints at the impending test of a nuclear bomb and its detonating devices by the North is actually indirect pressure on China to step up efforts to dissuade its Stalinist ally from further provocation.
Beijing may be able to put it off for some time ― several months at the most ― but not stop its troublesome protégé for good: It cannot give Pyongyang what it ultimately wants ― a normalized relationship with America.
A widespread consensus in Washington is no one can, or should, expect the rogue regime on the northern half of the Korean Peninsula to stop its nuclear development programs and missile launches. Yet such defeatism and easy resignation have helped to expand the North’s nuclear arsenal, which expert estimate to have more than a dozen nuclear weapons or weapons-grade material for such.
The North Korean regime can have no excuses for being bent on a nuclear buildup while letting millions of its citizens starve to death. It is also true Pyongyang broke promises with the U.S. not once but twice, in 1994 and 2005, respectively. But U.S. officials need to think whether they really did their best in working out closely-woven agreements that does not allow loopholes for North Koreans to slip through or just remained complacent with the political accomplishment.
A more recent case in point is their bilateral accord on Feb. 29, the so-called Leap Day Agreement, in which Pyongyang promised to suspend nuclear tests, missile launches and enrichment of uranium in exchange for 240,000 tons of nutritional aid. Had the U.S. side been careful enough to also include the launch of a satellite on the don’t-do list, North Korea couldn’t have passed the responsibility of its breakup onto Washington. And such scrupulosity might have been possible if the Obama administration had really wanted to solve the problem instead of just avoiding aggravation in an election year.
This is never to say which side is right or more right. The North Korean leadership is inexcusable and unforgivable if for no other reason than ignoring its people’s plight for the system’s ― or regime’s ― continuity.
Still what the U.S. has done was similarly pitiable, pulling back the ``red line” from the banning of nuclear material to that of nuclear tests to proliferation to third countries and finally to weapons using uranium that are far smaller and easier to carry, leading to the birth of a nuclear power.
The U.S. could conduct a surgical strike as an eventual solution, as it planned to do in 1994. If Washington instead takes up a solution through dialogue, it should do so far more efficiently ― and earnestly.