North Korea: Talking Won't Do the Trick

Rarely in the past half-century has a nation so openly flouted the international community as North Korea has done in recent months. Pyongyang has admitted that it has secretly started a second nuclear program and has restarted its original one. This poses a challenge that the world cannot ignore.

Unfortunately, North Korea's neighbors want nothing more than to wish away the crisis. China and South Korea hope that dialogue and reconciliation will erase the deadly threat posed by Supreme Leader Kim Jong Il. That's not going to be sufficient. South Korea understandably wants above all to prevent war. Seoul's northern fringes are just 25 miles from the North Korean border. South Koreans also fret that the cost of paying for a collapsed North Korea could be too high and that their country would be overwhelmed by a crush of refugees. The inexperienced government of Roh Moo Hyun that takes power on Feb. 25 is ideologically wedded to reconciliation with the North. It was swept to power by a generation that is suspicious of the U.S.

The recent comment by one of Roh's emissaries to Washington that some South Korean students would rather see a nuclear North Korea than a collapsed North Korea perfectly reflects this generation's muddled thinking. A collapsed North Korea would be expensive, but it is not beyond the capacity of South Korea, Japan, and the international community to deal with. Assuming that the border is maintained, food aid followed by investment could get the country back on its feet.

North Korea has violated its agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency by expelling international inspectors, reloading nuclear fuel at the Yongbyon reactor, and withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The IAEA should take the issue to the U.N. Security Council. North Korea must comply with its agreements or face sanctions. The U.S., with the help of Japan and, possibly, China and South Korea, must work together to weave a tightening web around Pyongyang.

The U.S. should make evident its readiness to negotiate, either multilaterally or alone, with Kim Jong Il. Washington will have to further demonstrate that the way to peace, security, and economic assistance is open for a North Korea that is prepared to come in out of the cold. But the international community, including South Korea, must join the U.S. in making it equally clear that there is no room in today's world for a nuclear North Korea. Talking is unlikely to be enough.

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