Containing North Korea the Old Fashioned Way

This week, China put pressure on North Korea’s mercurial dictator, Kim Jung Il, apparently winning a pledge to not conduct another nuclear test. If it stands, this is the first good news to come from Secretary of State Condoleeeza Rice’s travel to Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, and Moscow drumming up support for the U.N. Security Council’s economic sanctions and trade interdiction package.

North Korea also appears ready to make concessions, the Chinese say, if the United States does as well. Sanctions and tough diplomacy cannot force the regime to collapse — in part because neither China nor South Korea want the chaos of a collapsed state — but they can prod the North Koreans back to the negotiating table.

This is how hard-nosed diplomacy should proceed in the face of North Korean intransigence. The question is: What took so long? It was clear over a year ago that President Bush’s “regime change” strategy for dealing with the “axis of evil” was a failure. And it’s been clear for some time that a tough, but more nuanced approach, could work — witness the success of negotiations with Libya stretching over three administrations that resulted in a deal that “cost little, caused no deaths, and was 100 percent effective.”

The United States must now be prepared to implement the agreement struck in the six-party talks last September: security assurances and economic assistance in exchange for a complete, verifiable dismantlement of the nuclear program. We should all encourage the realists within the Bush administration to get back to basics.


Joe Cirincione