A bold Plan B for North Korea
The US should consider inducing China to topple the Kim regime.
North Korea's announced withdrawal Tuesday from the six-party talks in response to the UN Security Council's tepid reaction to the April 5 missile test raises a disturbing possibility. The US and the governments of East Asia have proceeded on the assumption that a diplomatic solution to North Korea's nuclear program is feasible. That settlement would entail Pyongyang's renunciation of its nuclear ambitions in exchange for diplomatic and economic concessions.Skip to next paragraph
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But what if the underlying assumption is wrong?
What if, for six years, Kim Jong Il's regime has been merely stalling for time while building nuclear warheads and perfecting a reliable missile delivery system? It would have been relatively easy for Pyongyang to ignore the UN's condemnation and remain in the six-party talks. The Security Council's action Monday was utterly anemic, since the outcome was not even a binding resolution. It was merely a statement from the council president condemning the missile launch and admonishing member states to more effectively enforce the hardly robust sanctions imposed in 2006 following the North's nuclear test. Yet North Korea used the council's response as an excuse to quit the talks.
It is time to ask what the US and North Korea's neighbors in East Asia plan to do if Pyongyang is not willing to abandon its nuclear ambitions. In other words, what is "Plan B" if the six-party talks fail? Since military action against North Korea is far too dangerous, there appear to be only three other options, and none is entirely appealing or without risk.
The first option would be to follow the suggestion of former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton and other hard-liners to impose far stronger multilateral economic sanctions. That strategy has a big defect, however. Both Beijing and Moscow are vehemently opposed to enhanced sanctions. China's opposition is crucial because without Chinese cooperation, coercive economic measures would have little impact on Pyongyang. And given the dependence on Beijing's willingness to continue funding the soaring US treasury debt, American officials are not in a good bargaining position to pressure China into endorsing robust sanctions.