Sample Editorial: North Korea and the Bomb
Let us all agree: North Korea’s government is too erratic, too brutal, and too willing to sell what it has built to have a nuclear bomb. There is also no military solution, not least because intelligence experts haven’t a clue where Pyongyang has hidden its weapons labs or its stock of plutonium.
So after years of temporizing and denial, the world’s leaders need to figure out how to force this terrible genie back into the bottle. It is a truism that no country that has tested a nuclear weapon has ever been pressured or cajoled into giving it up. But neither has any nuclear postulant been as vulnerable to outside pressure and bribery as this regime.
The Bush administration seems to want to impose limited sanctions on North Korea — and inspections of all cargo going into and out of the country — until it agrees to abandon its entire weapons program. We fear that won’t be enough to quickly change Pyongyang’s mind — while key players like China won’t sign on to never-ending punishments.
We believe this must instead be a two-step process, starting with a Security Council-ordered ban on all trade, until the North agrees to stop expanding its arsenal. Pyongyang must be told that there will be no further attempt at negotiation until it halts all plutonium production, forswears additional tests and readmits United Nations inspectors.
In practice, the North Koreans are likely to back down only if China chokes off their oil supply and other essential trade. Until now Beijing has refused to use its enormous leverage, fearing that too much pressure could topple the North Korean government and unleash a mass of refugees over its border. When told they were enabling their neighbor’s nuclear ambitions, Chinese diplomats blithely insisted that the North was likely bluffing about having a weapon. Now, Washington, Tokyo, Moscow and others have to make clear that China will be judged by its willingness to confront this problem.
The Security Council must also make clear that it is still demanding the complete dismantlement of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. For that, negotiations are the only hope. It is impossible to know whether North Korea will give up its weapons at any price. But it has never been tested — mainly because the Bush administration has not made the sort of serious offer, including security guarantees, that might make a bargain worthwhile.
The administration has indulged in its own denial and temporizing. Last year, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dismissed the North’s declaration that it had nuclear weapons as a bid for attention. “I do think the North Koreans have been, frankly, a little bit disappointed that people are not jumping up and down and running around with their hair on fire,” she told The Wall Street Journal.
Since then, United States policy has whipsawed between negotiations and posturing, incentives and sanctions. It has been months since negotiators even sat down at the table. Administration hawks suggested last week that perhaps the best thing would be for the North to test, so the world would know exactly what it was dealing with. The hawks appear to have gotten their way. So why don’t we feel safer?
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