[Viewpoint] Dwight was right“The courage to be patient” is how President Dwight D. Eisenhower publicly rejected demands in 1954 for military action against China, during the cold war. Ike’s wise counsel then provides good guidance now.
On Feb. 28, North Korea’s official news agency and the U.S. Department of State announced that Pyongyang is permitting nuclear inspections and suspending nuclear weapons tests and uranium enrichment. This may show flexibility by Kim Jong-un, the North’s young new leader.
The Obama administration is rightly cautious, saying little beyond the official State Department announcement. The White House has described the apparent detente as “important, if limited.”
We have been down this road before. The Clinton administration spearheaded an effort to freeze and dismantle the nuclear weapons program, to include food and fuel aid for the North. However, Republican leaders refused to support the agreement after winning both houses of Congress in 1994.
In October 2006 and May 2009, North Korea conducted nuclear tests. The nature of the explosions was hard to evaluate from a distance, but nuclear materials were undeniably involved. The second nuclear test, deemed particularly provocative, occurred not only on Memorial Day in the U.S. but over mourning in South Korea for former President Roh Moo-hyun, who had committed suicide.
The explosions were accompanied by missile tests. In April 2009, after great public fanfare, Pyongyang test launched a Taepodong 2 missile described as capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The projectile fell into the ocean after passing over Japan. The device was an improved version of one tested on July 4, 2006 - Independence Day in the U.S.
The Bush administration gave emphasis to six-party diplomacy involving the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia plus the U.S., after earlier stressing a unilateral stance in foreign policy. This dramatic reversal provided strong testimony for the value of trying collectively to reach nuclear accord with the isolated state.
Economic leverage has been important, though not sufficient. In 2007, Washington declared Banco Delta Asia (BDA) in Macau a renegade institution assisting Pyongyang’s illegal black-market activities. U.S. businesses were banned from dealing with BDA and Macau government authorities froze $25 million in North Korean funds.
In recent years Pyongyang has become experienced at creating crisis, then stepping back from the brink. For Seoul and Washington, this has been arduous.
Nevertheless, war has been averted and regional stability maintained. Right now, patience is in order.
*The author is a Clausen distinguished professor at Carthage College.
by Arthur I. Cyr