What should the U.S. do about North Korea?

North Korea is rattling the saber again. But this time, Kim Jong Il may unsheathe his sword on South Korea and U.S. troops stationed there.

Pyongyang this week tested a nuclear weapon and launched three missiles in two days over the Sea of Japan. The North Koreans then said they would no longer recognize the 1953 armistice that suspended the Korean War and threatened Seoul with attack if South Korea attempted to search any North Korean ships for unlawful nuclear materials.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Pyongyang would "face consequences" for its latest show of aggression. Apart from more condemnations from world leaders and perhaps wringing out another United Nations resolution and weak sanctions, what can the United States do to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, weigh in.


Time and again North Korea threatens the United States and its neighbors, South Korea and Japan, with violence. And time and again the United States, South Korea and a reluctant Japan appease the criminals in Pyongyang with the money, food and fuel the regime needs to function. Our humanitarian aid frees up scarce resources for the North Koreans to develop nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. The United States needs to break this cycle.

Diplomacy is all about carrots and sticks. But diplomacy with North Korea has been all carrot, no stick. The diplomacy of three U.S. presidential administrations has done nothing — zero — to deter the North Koreans from developing a viable nuclear weapon and a means of delivering it. Enough already.

No more carrots. No more "humanitarian aid" that allows this Stalinist redoubt to make mischief in Asia and risk further destabilizing the Middle East by selling its missiles and nuclear technology. No more rewarding blackmail and appearing weaker in the eyes of other aspiring members of the nuclear club, such as Iran.

And the stick? President Obama foolishly promised during the campaign to "cut investments in unproven missile defense systems" and he has already taken steps in that direction. But if North Korea’s latest provocations tell us anything at all, it’s that a robust missile defense would neutralize Kim’s nukes much more effectively than any sternly worded resolutions, promises of food and fuel aid, or even — Heaven forbid — a first strike on North Korea’s nuclear installations ever could.


North Korea has the bomb. It is keeping the bomb. And there is nothing we can do about it.

This is bad, of course, but probably also inevitable: Over the past two decades, American presidents have offered carrots, then sticks, then carrots again in an attempt to get North Korea to drop its nuclear weapons program. Nothing worked. We could’ve gone to war, perhaps, but Seoul would’ve been destroyed and the devastation of a new Korean War was nearly as horrifying to contemplate as a North Korean nuke.

Rather than point fingers, American policymakers and pundits should work on dissuading Pyongyang from ever using its new weapon.

Because, let’s face it, the real Atomic Age is just beginning. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968 kept wannabe nuclear powers at bay for decades, but its day is over. Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea have the bomb. Absent a devastating war, Iran will soon join the club. Syria is clearly on the market. The list goes on.

Can you blame these countries? Nuclear weapons offer their possessor a certain invulnerability to attack, after all — does anybody think the United States would’ve gone into Iraq if Saddam Hussein had an actual nuclear weapon to use against the invaders? No. We would’ve found a way to grudgingly live with it.

The U.S. and other countries should continue non-proliferation efforts, but we should also expect to fail. America and the Soviet Union kept the Cold War peace for 40 years by promising each other utter destruction in the event of nuclear war. In coming decades, we may have to replicate that arrangement dozens of times over — and augment such understandings with a healthy dose of prayer. In the new Atomic Age, that may be the best we can do.

(Listen to Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis podcast weekly at http://www.infinitemonkeysblog.com and http://politics.pwblogs.com/.)