North Korea Adds to Obama's To-Do List

a | A

Kim Jong Un has a stark message for Barack Obama, Shinzo Abe and Xi Jinping: I won't be ignored.

The North Korean leader clearly won the attention today of his counterparts in the U.S., Japan and China with the nation's third nuclear test. It was the first since Kim took over from his late father, who died in December 2011, and it adds another test to a world already awash in international flashpoints. Let's hope Obama, Abe and Xi get the memo.

The onus here is especially on Obama. The U.S. president has a full foreign-policy plate for his second term, from Iran's nuclear ambitions, chaos in Syria and Egypt, territorial disputes in Asia pitting China against Japan, a teetering Europe and the fallout from climate change. Yet it's time to put North Korea high on America's agenda. The next four years afford Obama a chance to place this issue in the global spotlight and to correct the missteps of the past.

This detonation three weeks after the United Nations tightened sanctions indicates Kim backs the military-first policy of his late father as he solidifies hold of the country he took charge of 14 months ago. It will challenge South Korea's President-elect Park Geun Hye's pledge to improve ties with the North. How incoming Chinese President Xi handles this open act of defiance will suggest what kind of leader he will be and the relationship he envisions with Washington and Tokyo.

What's needed is a new framework to rein in North Korea and improve the lives of 24 million people. The so-called six-party talks are getting us nowhere. They are the diplomatic equivalent of the Doha round of World Trade Organization talks. Let's drop the collective fiction that either is still alive.

Obama should announce a summit meeting on North Asian peace, inviting leaders from around Asia and Russia to get into a room and brainstorm on new ways to approach Pyongyang. One objective is to find a better balance between carrots and sticks to prod change. An even more important one is coming up with fresh ideas and tactics. At what point does the world admit what it's doing now isn't working?

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Willie Pesek at