- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Bush administration is handling North Korea’s nuclear brinkmanship just right. It reacts without histrionics, demands action by the world community, applies a widening circle of economic sanctions, strengthens missile defenses, and works with allies to present a united front that promises Pyongyang increasing pain.

Last year Kim Jong-il, the oddball ruler of North Korea, refused to return to the six-party disarmament talks, demanding the U.S. stop blocking his illicit financial transactions. When his demand was ignored, he launched seven missiles into the Sea of Japan. That got no results, so now he apparently has exploded a nuclear weapon.

Already there are calls to meet Kim’s demand for bilateral negotiations. But for years the State Department negotiated directly with North Korea and provided substantial concessions, including food, fuel and construction of nuclear reactors. All the while, the North violated the agreement by secretly developing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

In contrast, President Bush’s application of financial sanctions under the Patriot Act is getting results. Banks around the world, including in China, are restricting North Korea’s questionable money transfers. And this apparently is cutting into Mr. Kim’s personal slush fund.

Most important is the alliance between the U.S., Japan, South Korea, and China in confronting North Korea in what is called a “common and broad approach.” After Mr. Kim ignored Beijing’s advice and launched missiles, China took the unprecedented step of voting for a U.N. resolution condemning North Korea and imposing limited sanctions. In a major success for President Bush’s policy of dealing with Pyongyang only through six-party talks, China finally seems to be trying to restrain Mr. Kim.

Japan is playing an important role. Its new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is a defense hawk who made his reputation by negotiating the release of Japanese kidnapped by North Korea and then reneging on the agreement by refusing Mr. Kim’s demand to return them to the North. It made Mr. Abe a hero in Japan.

As chief Cabinet secretary for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, Mr. Abe helped shape Japan’s historic actions in sending troops to Iraq, applying sanctions on North Korea, upgrading Japan’s missile defenses, and strengthening ties with the United States. As prime minister, he promises more of the same, including efforts to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution and create a Defense Ministry.

Japan can be expected to increase sanctions on North Korea, possibly by stopping cash remittances to the North and banning its ships from Japanese ports. Mr. Abe already has suggested Japan should be prepared to consider a pre-emptive attack on North Korea, if necessary.

While South Korea has been run in recent years by governments determined to buy off North Korea, the North’s explosion of a nuclear weapon is too much even for appeasement-minded President Roh Moo-hyun, who is cooperating in the united front against the North.

The united front was in evidence at the U.N. last week when the Security Council, led by Japan, unanimously warned North Korea not to conduct a test. Even the Russian ambassador supported and praised the U.N. warning. Now the question is whether the U.N. will adopt serious sanctions.

North Korea’s nuclear test following its multiple missile launch makes more urgent than ever the deployment of missile defenses and shows the folly of those who want to delay deployment of defenses while conducting interminable flight tests.

Missile defense opponents call for multiple tests against decoys before deploying any defenses. But since existing missile defenses are quite effective against the kind of decoys North Korea may have, if any, it is important to get the best defenses available into the field quickly and then improve them.

The administration should accelerate deployment of additional ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California, and PAC-3 interceptors to Japan and South Korea, and get ship-based interceptors on U.S. and Japanese Aegis destroyers in the Pacific and Sea of Japan.

The combination of a united front against Pyongyang and the strengthening of missile defenses around the Pacific can keep North Korea isolated while the united front increases sanctions to push the regime toward collapse. The U.S. approach is working. It is important to stay the course and ignore those who call for direct negotiations and other concessions.

James Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times and is based in Carlsbad, Calif.


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