Reports that North Korea is expanding its nuclear arsenal in the Korean Peninsula are not surprising. North Korea under Kim Jong Un has engaged in this military and nuclear buildup relentlessly. He made it very clear when he came to power three years ago that this was a major priority.
Reports like these surface when North Koreans feel they’ve been upstaged in the world. In this case, they’ve been upstaged by the Iran nuclear negotiations. They want to send a message to say, “We’re still around. We’re still players. And you have to deal with us.”
Unlike Iran, getting North Korea to terminate its nuclear program is much harder because it’s suspected that the country already has about a dozen nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are North Korea’s card to get some kind of concessions from the other countries engaged in the six-party talks to dismantle the country’s program—the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.
What is different this time then in the past is that China used to have leverage over North Korea because they provided the country with food, fuel, and assistance. But now the North Koreans aren’t listening to anybody. They’re going on their own.
The Obama administration’s policy of strategic patience with North Korea is not working. The danger is not that they’re going to attack us or our allies, but that they’re going to sell enriched uranium to bad actors—to al-Qaeda, to Pakistan, to Iran, to ISIS.
It’s important that the Obama administration engage North Korea in some kind of negotiation like Iran’s. In exchange for reducing their nuclear arsenal, we should make a deal so that North Koreans get foods, fuel, and humanitarian assistance. The country is falling apart economically.
Our policies have generally been OK, but we have to do more to engage North Korea. Otherwise, we’re going to concentrate so much on the Middle East that we’re going to lose sight of a potential tinderbox in Northeast Asia.
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