Has North Korea finally gone too far?
Consensus is rising in the international community: Enough cajoling, it's time to get tough.
North Korea may have gone too far with this week's nuclear blast and missile launch, potentially provoking the kind of harsh international action that it has more often than not avoided in the past.Skip to next paragraph
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But it may also be that Pyongyang is operating with a different set of objectives: focused on solidifying its place in the world's nuclear club, come what may.
The United Nations Security Council is preparing a new resolution condemning North Korea's recent steps. The aim is to halt what it considers to be Pyongyang's threatening and destabilizing actions.
Several council members are calling for tough new sanctions. China and Russia, traditionally less eager to punish North Korea, are employing harsher rhetoric and reaffirming the need to walk the North back from nuclear status.
At the same time, officials, proliferation experts, and Asia analysts are increasingly calling for a new international approach to North Korea. They suggest that the country should no longer be treated like a child to be cajoled, but instead as a violator of international law that must face the consequences of its actions.
France, for example, wants the new resolution that Security Council members began discussing Tuesday afternoon to "include new sanctions ... because this behavior must have a cost and a price to pay," said Jean-Pierre Lacroix, France's deputy UN ambassador.
One scenario would place a priority on restarting the intermittent six-party talks, although critics say that process resulted in North Korea exploding two nuclear weapons, honing its missile technology, and joining the nuclear club.
A second would involve comprehensive international measures to "manage" proliferation and other threats posed by Pyongyang. This would help the regime there to sort out internal issues – including succession to ailing dictator Kim Jong Il. Some specialists in Korean issues say these internal issues are driving recent actions.
"North Korea's objectives have changed. It now seems hell-bent on establishing its nuclear status, having run through a string of provocations since January that really allowed no time for the kind of diplomatic response it aimed for in the past," says Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. "They left no chance for the diplomatic goodies, which suggests their interest in them is not what it used to be."
On Wednesday, the regime said it would no longer abide by the five-decade-old truce between the Koreas, after South Korea announced it was joining a US-led security initiative that searches ships for nuclear weapons.
Tactical shift needed?
Monday's underground explosion of a nuclear weapon at a site near the Chinese border and Tuesday's test-firing of two short-range missiles followed April's launch of a Taepodong-2 long-range missile. Based on those actions, Mr. Klingner predicts North Korea will continue developing its nuclear and missile capabilities, perhaps as a reflection of its announced goal of becoming a "powerful nation" by 2012.
In response, the US and other international powers should abandon their "naïve" diplomatic efforts, Klingner says. Instead, they should focus on addressing the North's apparent decision to turn away from negotiation. The objective of such an international shift would be to get North Korea back to the negotiating table eventually – when serious pressures force it to discuss dismantling its nuclear program.