How should we react to North Korea?
North Korea has once again proven that it is the most erratic, belligerent, and dangerous country in the world today. Their military capabilities are limited, and their economy is deeply impoverished, but they have made attacks on their neighbors a way of life. Over the last four decades — long before President George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” speech — the North Koreans have kidnapped Japanese citizens, assassinated regional leaders, seized foreign ships, and now torpedoed a South Korean ship, killing forty-six sailors. Almost all of these attacks have been unprovoked, and they have created repeated war scares that the North Koreans have converted into negotiating leverage.
This madness has to end. The North Koreans have used their conventional, missile, and now nuclear technology to hold their neighbors, and the United States, hostage to their aims. They have used foreign threats to procure foreign aid, attention, and long-term sustenance despite a starving internal economy. They have made foreign threats a source of tyrannical longevity.
The options for the United States, China, South Korea, and Japan are very poor. Any serious retaliation against North Korea would produce an attack by Pyongyang on Seoul, probably destroying the South Korean economic and political capital with hundreds of thousands of deaths. On the other hand, conciliation and half-measures have consistently failed, as evidenced by the four decades of continued North Korean attacks.
What should we do? It appears that the only good option is to increase the isolation of the North Korean regime. The United States and South Korea must work closely with China to cut off all assistance and trade with Pyongyang. The United Nations must reinforce this policy, with tough and verifiable sanctions. In addition, all of the countries in the region must increase their military presence and promise, in no uncertain terms, that more North Korean attacks will only elicit more pain for the regime, not the negotiated concessions of the past. Deterrence and resolve, with the prospect for dialogue after evidence of improved North Korean behavior, offer the best option among bad choices.
The opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of either Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.