- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 13, 2005

The best response to North Korea’s announcement last week that it has produced nuclear weapons and will “increase the nuclear arsenal,” is to speak softly while proceeding to isolate and contain this rogue state.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union ended Soviet economic support for North Korea, the Pyongyang regime has survived on support from China while using blackmail and threats to get aid from the U.S., Japan and South Korea.

That worked during the Clinton administration. Its policy toward North Korea was simple — pay them off. But even then the North did not keep its promises. In 1993, North Korea threatened to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and develop nuclear weapons if it did not receive aid. It was blackmail pure and simple, but the Clinton administration met the North’s demands.

Under the 1994 Agreed Framework, North Korea promised to stop reprocessing nuclear fuel and building nuclear reactors in exchange for two large, supposedly proliferation-resistant light-water reactors, plus a half-million tons of oil each year. South Korea and Japan agreed to pay most of the $4.6 billion for building the reactors. The U.S. shipped millions of dollars worth of oil that helped grease the North’s military machine.

Oil shipments and construction continued through the Clinton years, despite the North’s continued proliferation of missiles and missile technology, and its 1998 launch of a Taepodong missile over Japan. A third stage showed it could reach the United States. President Clinton’s response was more concessions. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright paid homage to the North’s ruler and almost got a visit to North Korea scheduled for President Clinton himself.

The Bush administration reversed course, stopped oil shipments and froze construction of the nuclear reactors. In October 2002, the North said it was producing uranium hexafluoride, which can be used to make weapons-grade uranium. In December 2002, the North withdrew from the NPT and told U.S. visitors it had nuclear weapons and intended to make more. Later, Pakistan’s rogue scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, said when he made a visit to the North he was shown three devices that seemed to be nuclear weapons.

By summer 2003, North Korea was saying it had completed reprocessing its 8,000 nuclear fuel rods, considered to hold enough nuclear fuel for a half-dozen weapons, and was improving the range and accuracy of its ballistic missiles. After Libya abandoned its nuclear weapons program, it was revealed North Korea was the source of Libya’s uranium.

In recent weeks, North Korea has threatened to turn U.S. military bases in South Korea and Japan into a “sea of fire,” refused to return to the six-party talks, and admitted publicly it not only has nuclear weapons, but is producing more. On Feb. 10 North Korea said it was disappointed by President Bush’s Inaugural and State of the Union addresses and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s reference to the North as a tyranny.

Of course, they were disappointed. North Korea hoped for a new round of appeasement, as President Clinton had provided and Sen. John Kerry had promised.

North Korea has played brinksmanship for years, threatening and cajoling to obtain food and fuel. The answer is to ignore the North’s histrionics, while further isolating the regime.

Japan previously threatened economic sanctions on the North, which the Bush administration reportedly opposed. Economic sanctions by Japan, where refugees from the North are a major source of hard currency for North Korea, should be reconsidered if the North keeps boycotting the six-party talks.

Meanwhile, the administration should use the Proliferation Security Initiative to inspect every suspicious shipment from North Korea and totally cut off any nuclear or missile exports.

It is essential to maintain a close alliance with Japan and South Korea on policy toward North Korea. This should be backed by a growing shield against the North’s missiles. Increasing the missile shield to 40 interceptors in Alaska and California, Aegis ships in the Sea of Japan and North Pacific, and Patriot PAC-3 interceptors in Japan and South Korea, will neutralize the North’s nuclear weapons. The U.S. also should continue to lead in keeping international pressure on North Korea.

Containment of the Soviet Union, when there was no good alternative, kept the peace for years. Containment of North Korea, while applying pressure for regime change, would be far better than another Korean War, or submitting to blackmail.

James T. Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times and is based in San Diego.

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