Taming North Korea

The fires of the Middle East must not be allowed to distract the world’s attention from the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, which it demonstrated by its recent test of a long-range missile. Yet that is what appears to be happening.

In mid-July, the Group of Eight’s summit in St. Petersburg ended by calling on North Korea to stop its missile tests and to abandon its nuclear weapons program. This followed a UN Security Council resolution that condemned North Korea’s missile launches of July 5, demanded that it return to the negotiating table, and required UN members to prevent the import and export of any material or money related to North Korea’s missile or unconventional weapons programs. China’s President Hu Jintao urged progress in the stalled talks so that “the entire Korean peninsula can be denuclearized.” This seemed like a diplomatic breakthrough, but there was less forward movement than meets the eye.

During its first term, the Bush administration hoped that it could solve the North Korean nuclear problem through regime change. The hope was that isolation and sanctions would topple Kim Jong Il’s dictatorship. But the regime proved resistant, and the Bush administration agreed to enter into six-party talks with China, Russia, Japan, and the two Koreas.

In September 2005, it appeared momentarily that the talks had produced a rough agreement that North Korea would forgo its nuclear program in return for security guarantees and removal of sanctions. But the loosely worded accord soon collapsed, and North Korea refused to return to the talks until the US stopped shutting down bank accounts suspected of counterfeiting and laundering money for Kim’s regime.