- The Washington Times - Monday, April 6, 2009


North Korea’s launch Sunday of a long-range missile is a direct challenge to President Obama and his “soft power” foreign policy. While the president was on his humility tour of Europe, Pyongyang demonstrated its willingness to defy the international community and dared the United Nations to respond, stating it would consider any “presidential statement or statement to the press” on the launch a “violent, hostile act.”

Soft power - the emphasis on nonmilitary elements of national power in the conduct of foreign policy - is much beloved by the Obama administration. But North Korea has been perfumed with soft power for years to no effect. Under the 1994 Agreed Framework, which was the product of talks between Kim Jong-il and Jimmy Carter, North Korea promised to scale back its nuclear program in exchange for economic and other assistance. This broke down by 2002, when it was clear the North was not keeping its part of the bargain. The Six Party Talks that began in 2003 have produced nice-sounding words and joint statements, but during that time, North Korea successfully tested nuclear weapons and pushed ahead on missile development. Meanwhile, its people continue to suffer under one of the most oppressive and bizarre regimes in history.

The prevailing U.S. approach seems to be to ignore Pyongyang’s provocations. Many reason that because North Korea is “contained,” there is no reason to respond vigorously to bluff and bluster - or weapons tests. But North Korea is not contained. Pyongyang has been working with Iran and Syria on nuclear and missile technology. It also is seeking an intercontinental ballistic missile capability that would enable it to hit the U.S. West Coast with nuclear warheads. All of this has taken place despite intensive negotiations, sanctions and other “weapons” in the soft-power arsenal.

Pyongyang’s missile test is a direct challenge to the Obama administration. It will require a stronger response than a stern statement or proposals for test ban treaties. The president stated that the test “underscores the need for action,” and we agree. We urge the president to give this issue the serious attention it deserves and earnestly hope he is more successful than his predecessors in ending the growing North Korean threat.

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