Pressuring North Korea

SOME form of sanctions against the regime of North Korea should finally be voted on by the United Nations as a result of North Korea's flagrant breaking of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Over the past week, UN inspectors have been saying they can no longer confirm the history of the reactor at Yongbyon and that weapons-grade plutonium may have been extracted in 1989. While the North Koreans have put the latest batch of spent fuel rods under UN monitoring, there is no reason to believe, based on past history, that the UN cameras won't be shut off, and the fuel diverted, any time it suits Pyongyang. The technology for the timing device for a modern ICBM-style nuclear weapon eludes Pyongyang. But military planners must ask for how long. Can North Korea develop or buy technology for arming limited-range missiles?

Kim Il Sung's regime insists this week that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, although it won't allow confirmation. Last week the regime attacked the world's nuclear club for weapons of mass destruction - as if the NPT itself, an attempt to control nukes, were somehow to blame.

Pyongyang is a shrewd and brutal regime and must be dealt with as such. The state is run by a family that has little interest in rationality or what in the West might be called enlightened self-interest. Throughout the confrontation over North Korea's suspected noncompliance with the NPT, the regime has done what such regimes always do: It has used the good faith of law-abiding regimes, including a lack of desire for any confrontation, against them. In this case, North Korea apparently has developed and financed an ever more sophisticated nuclear program even as it said it was not doing so as a member of the NPT.

For the past year, North Korea has asked the international community to jump through many hoops. It used trickery, reversed itself, asked for new deadlines, and always left just enough string for the West to be strung along. Now that process should be reversed.

Slow but consistent pressure on North Korea must be applied, at the least. The capitulations in the past year by the West, along with the Clinton administration's reputation abroad for soft foreign-policy positions, have set a tone. But the two Kims - Kim Il Sung and heir Kim Jong Il - must go through a reeducation process about Western resolve, intelligently applied.

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