EDITORIAL: Changing tack with North Korea

Editorial Desk in Seoul/The Korea Herald
Asia News Network

Seoul (The Korea Herald/ANN) - The UN Security Council acted with unusual swiftness when it condemned North Korea on Monday for launching a long-range rocket. It took just three days for the council to toughen sanctions against the rogue regime for violating its previous resolutions.

While the council's response was timely, it lacked teeth needed to deter the wayward regime from making further provocations. On Tuesday, the North "resolutely and totally" rejected the council's unanimous statement, asserting that it ignored its sovereign right to launch satellites to reach outer space.

Furthermore, the North accused the United States of breaching the February 29 agreement, under which Washington promised to provide 240,000 tonnes of nutritional aid in return for Pyongyang's moratorium on missile launches, nuclear testing and uranium enrichment at its Yongbyon nuclear facilities.

The deal breaker was obviously the botched rocket launch. Yet Pyongyang passed the buck to Washington, calling its scrapping of the food aid scheme a hostile act. Saying it would no longer be committed to the measures of the Leap Day agreement, the impudent regime threatened to retaliate.

This is a typical pattern of behavior the mischievous leaders in the North show when they are up to something bad. When the North announced a long-range missile launch plan a month ago, it probably had already planned a third nuclear test. But it needed a justification for the unwarranted act.

Yet if the North goes ahead with another nuclear test, which is widely expected, it will be digging its own grave. It should realise that its rocket launch, which was a thinly veiled ballistic missile test, has provided a painful reality check to policymakers in Washington and Seoul.

The two allies have long sought engagement with the impoverished regime in the belief that a deal could be reached on dismantling its nuclear weapons. This belief was shattered by the rocket launch, which was a slap in the face for Washington officials who harbored optimism following the February agreement.

The launch reminded them that the paranoid state would never abandon its nuclear programme - whatever price it might be offered. It also showed that there was no reason to expect that the North's new leader would be any more willing to give up nuclear weapons than his deceased father.

In fact, Kim Jong-il stressed in his last will the importance of developing weapons of mass destruction. He impressed upon his heir that the only way to keep peace on the Korean peninsula is to constantly develop nuclear weapons, long-range missiles and biochemical weapons and expand their stockpiles.

Washington and Seoul officials are now fed up with playing the nuclear and missile game with the insidious regime. They have realised that pursuing aid-for-denuclearization package deals, such as the February 29 agreement, is just playing into the North's hands, helping it buy more time to hone its nuclear and missile technologies.

The two allies are hence seeking a game changer in dealing with the North's growing nuclear menace. Their new approach calls for homing in on its weak points. Recently top officials of the two countries have begun to highlight the destitute regime's weaknesses - its inability to improve people's livelihoods and its failure to protect their human rights.

The shift in focus is well-advised. The biggest threat for the reclusive state is not missiles from the South but information from abroad. Once outside information manages to penetrate the North's closed borders, it will shake the Stalinist regime to its foundation.

While recalibrating their North Korea strategy, the two allies need to tighten the screws on the defiant regime to shelve its anticipated nuclear test. Here, enlisting China's cooperation is of primary importance.

Recently, China has acted in a more responsible manner. The swift adoption of the presidential statement at the UNSC would not have been possible without China's cooperation. So much so that President Lee Myung-bak praised Beijing's backing of the statement.

It is also noteworthy that Beijing has stopped returning North Korean refugees to their home country. Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun quoted Chinese officials as saying that Beijing has put its repatriation policy on hold. This could be seen as an indication of China's opposition to its ally's rocket launch and anticipated nuclear test.

Under these circumstances, if North Korea pushes ahead with its plan to test another atomic device, it would put its own survival in peril. It should stop walking on the path of destruction and focus on ameliorating the livelihoods of its people.