Stay the Course in North Korea

NEW YORK – Barack Obama’s election was historic on many levels. Between now and his inauguration on January 20, he will need to hone his policies.

Much of the early focus of the Obama administration will undoubtedly be on the economy and the war in Iraq. But it is critically important that the new administration pay serious attention to other foreign-policy issues right from the start. American relations with North Korea, and the ongoing six-party talks, certainly belong at the top of the list. Here, the United States must not only stay the course, but also build on the efforts of the last few years.

The risks of changing course cannot be overstated. Not long after President George W. Bush came into office, his administration took a hard-line stance against the North Korean regime, calling for a review of the Clinton administration’s policy, and eventually tagging North Korea as a member of the “axis of evil.” While North Korea had done much over the preceding years to warrant a more critical eye, in retrospect these policies set back prospects for peace and stability in the region.

After all, North Korea’s reaction to the Bush administration’s policies was to drop out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, restart its nuclear program, and further develop its weapons production. Indeed, it is believed that North Korea during this time increased its stockpile of nuclear weapons. Moreover, while there is plenty of blame to go around on all sides, America’s change of policy stalled for years the potential for progress in relations between the six parties.