Costly brinkmanship

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Costly brinkmanship

Not only has North Korea stopped dismantlement of its Yongbyon nuclear facilities, it is also setting out to reconstruct the plant. It has also threatened to evict officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency unless Washington officially takes it off the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

But these moves all seem familiar. Since the early 1990s, the North has played brinkmanship whenever a diplomatic quandary is on the horizon.

Pyongyang made the symbolic gesture of blowing up a cooling tower at the Yongbyon nuclear plant in June. This effort to show that it is no longer a threat may go down the drain in light of the latest debacle.

The crisis stems from a lack of agreement on the verification of North Korea’s nuclear installations and materials. Pyongyang has long insisted that verification should only cover the items it declared in June.

But the U.S. has long demanded that the North accept a more comprehensive and thorough verification mechanism, including unannounced visits to certain nuclear installations and extracting nuclear-related materials from certain areas.

The feud basically stems from the fact that the Oct. 3, 2007 agreement under the six-party talks, which mapped out plans for the North’s nuclear declaration, detailed little about a binding process for the subsequent verification. Which means that both sides should get together and make efforts to narrow the gap. But Pyongyang did not bother to make any such effort, instead reacting rashly and displaying yet again the unpredictable and turbulent nature of its diplomacy.

But North Korea has its own well-calculated motives. Its classic scheme of brinkmanship has so far helped the country earn enormous benefits from scared neighbors, including food aid and defense security.

Indeed, the North has committed a number of rogue actions, including counterfeiting U.S. dollars, money laundering and firing missiles towards its Asian neighbors. But it has been the U.S. or other neighbors that have made concessions to Pyongyang in the end.

The North’s political leaders should be fully aware that no country will tolerate its threats when it comes to nuclear weapons.

And they may have a thing or two to learn from Libya, whose leader Muammar Qaddafi officially abandoned its weapons of mass destruction and broke decades-long hostility against major Western powers. The North African country even recently struck a deal with Rome to receive compensation for Italy’s colonial occupation of the country.

As a result, Libya will receive foreign investments of $5 billion over the next 25 years.

North Korea should learn from Qaddafi and help save its own people, who have long suffered because of its tattered economy.

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