Staying alert to North threatHillary Clinton, the U.S. secretary of state, promised “a tougher joint effort to stop [North Korea’s] nuclear weapons program” on Wednesday. The United Nations Security Council revealed a list of North Korean officials and companies subject to sanctions. Kim Yong-nam, the president of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly, declared that “the six-party talks came to a permanent end” on Thursday and stressed that the North “has no choice but to take decisive measures to further strengthen its nuclear deterrence.”
As the United States and North Korea square off, neither side seems prepared to back down. Clearly, the North Korean nuclear issue is reaching a critical point. After two decades of more failures than success, resolving the nuclear question is entering a new phase.
Looking back on the past 20 years, we believe resolving the nuclear conundrum should follow some principles. First, North Korea must never, under any circumstances, be recognized as a nuclear power. North Korea must never own nuclear weapons and must discard whatever it already possesses.
During the two decades of nuclear negotiations, the international community has failed to come to an agreement on this. And there was relatively little tension before the North’s second nuclear test. But that detonation and a succession of missile tests have destabilized the Northeast Asian region and the rest of the world.
Second, the North Korean nuclear issue must not be viewed merely as a regional problem. It’s self-evident that North Korea’s nuclear development threatens international nuclear non-proliferation.
The North’s nuclear armament is a challenge to the entire international community because it threatens the interests of countries including South Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia.
Third, China’s active participation in the process is of primary importance. The reason that the past 20 years of nuclear negotiations have mostly failed is we lack the resources for appropriate pressure to apply when necessary.
The general consensus is that the deteriorating domestic situation in the North has played a role. As Kim Jong-il’s health apparently gets worse, North Korea has chosen confrontation rather than negotiation. By raising tensions with the outside world, the North is trying to solidify its regime. The domestic troubles will remain in place for quite some time, meaning tensions are also likely to increase.
Our government must remember that provocation could occur any time as a result of heightening tensions and must be prepared to act accordingly.