[Viewpoint] Time to hold the North accountable
North Korea has resorted to brinkmanship again. It
declared on Tuesday it would boycott the six-party talks
and restart its partly disabled nuclear facilities.
The action came after the United Nations Security Council
condemned the North for violating a 2006 resolution
banning it from developing ballistic missiles and
demanded the North stop further launchings. Pyongyang
ordered the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy
Agency to leave North Korea.
The Obama administration, which has not yet formulated
a concrete North Korea policy except that it would use
both carrot and stick in dealing with the North, seems to
be at a loss. Washington had to hold off on using its
missile defense system, even though the North fired a
long-range missile in defiance of repeated warnings.
After the test-launch, Washington said it would punish the
North by adopting a resolution at the UN Security Council.
But the U.S. effort to put the North under international
pressure was foiled by opposition from China and Russia.
It had to be satisfied with the adoption of a statement to
tighten sanctions against North Korea.
Now that the North has threatened to restart its nuclear
program and boycott the six-party talks, it is a pity that
the White House spokesman has only commented that the
move was “a serious step in the wrong direction,” and
that the North should return to the bargaining table.
North Korea observers predict the incident will take one of
the following two courses.
First, as was the case in 1998 and 2006, there could be
contact between the U.S. and North Korean authorities
after a cooling off period of a few weeks, and both sides
could have negotiations on a new set of demands from
Or, the North could go a step further and try either to
tame the Obama administration by carrying out another
nuclear test, or put the Lee Myung-bak administration to a
test by provoking a military conflict along the Northern
Limit Line in the West Sea.
In the case of the latter, the North will probably try to get
even bigger concessions than an economic package,
including a generous supply of heavy oil, electricity and
It is absurd to assume that North Korea will still take
hostilities to the next level even after all these
provocations. I don’t mean to discount the possibility that
the North will go ahead with a nuclear test or provoke a
military conflict along the NLL, nor do I underestimate the
adverse effects these would have on the security of the
But overestimating the North Korea threat will mean
admitting defeat to North Korea’s brinkmanship. One past
example of this was that Washington started direct talks
with Pyongyang one month after Pyongyang fired a
Taepodong-1 missile in 1998, and the two sides agreed on
a missile moratorium under which the United States was
to compensate the North with $1 billion. Due to the
change of government in Washington, the agreement did
not materialize, but it must have stimulated North Korea’s
appetite. The same applied to the rapid development of
talks between Washington and Pyongyang after the North
fired a Taepodong-2 missile and tested a nuclear bomb in
North Koreans seem to remember the Perry Process in
1998, under which the North had the pleasure of having
direct talks with Washington on a variety of issues,
including a missile moratorium, high-level visits, diplomatic
openings and even an inter-Korean summit, separate
from the nuclear issue. North Koreans might, somehow,
expect that they can get more concessions from the
Obama administration than from its predecessor.
But the Obama government seems uninterested in direct
talks with the North outside of the framework of the six-
party talks. At the moment, Washington pins its hopes on
China’s role as a mediator between North Korea and other
participants at the six-party talks. Its primary goals are
sending Stephen Bosworth, the special representative for
North Korea policy, to Pyongyang through the good
offices of Beijing and returning Pyongyang to the
If the United States shows only interest in dialogue at a
time when Pyongyang resorts to its typical brinkmanship
tactics, however, it will make the North elated. The United
States must take the measures mandated by its
agreements with the North.
It must, first of all, reinstate Pyongyang on the list of state
sponsors of terrorism. In August last year, Washington
removed the North from the list to salvage the nuclear
Now that the North is restarting its nuclear facilities, it is
only natural that Washington cancel the removal.
It is also important to strengthen financial sanctions
against North Korea. The U.S. Treasury had to close
investigations on North Korean accounts frozen at Chinese
banks in Macau, including Banco Delta Asia, to clear the
way for the nuclear agreement signed on Feb. 13, 2007.
The U.S. can now put the owners of the accounts on the
sanctions list wanted by the Security Council. In view of
the fact that the North used Macau as a base for weapons
deals over 20 years, many of them must be connected
with transactions dealing with weapons of mass
Financial sanctions are more effective than the
Proliferation Security Initiative itself in that they not only
block the flow of money for the development and
manufacturing of weapons, but they also interrupt
financial transactions that enable the program to begin in
the first place.
*The writer is a visiting professor of media studies at Myongji University.
by Park Sung-soo