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18:36 10 February 2016

OPINION: Less Patience, More Strategy

By Frank Jannuzi
TOKYO, Feb. 10, Kyodo

North Korea's launch of a satellite on Feb. 7 should compel Washington to rethink its approach to managing the North's nuclear ambitions. Although it must still master many technical details, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (as North Korea is known officially) is on course to have the ability to deliver a nuclear weapon anywhere on the planet. This would strike a major blow to the security interests of the United States and its allies and to the authority of the global nonproliferation regime. U.S. President Barack Obama's administration should work closely with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun Hye to deflect the DPRK from its current trajectory.

The first step will be to convince the U.N. Security Council to impose new sanctions. The DPRK must pay a price for its defiance of the international community. But if history is prologue, we know sanctions alone will not compel the DPRK to change course. Sanctions have not even prevented the DPRK from acquiring the foreign technologies and components it needs to modernize its nuclear and ballistic missile forces. Debris from the DPRK's Unha-3 rocket launched in December 2012 was littered with foreign dual-use parts not embargoed by the United Nations.

More fundamentally, the DPRK values its security too highly to disarm in the face of economic pressure, and China is not likely to agree to impose sanctions of such severity that they might cripple the DPRK. China has slow-walked discussion of sanctions at the United Nations while urging the United States to return to the bargaining table with the North. Beijing does not share Washington's priorities on the Korean Peninsula, and coordination with China will only become more difficult as Washington pushes Seoul to respond to the DPRK's growing missile threat by deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, the U.S. Army's antiballistic missile system. In short, the United States cannot "outsource" the job of dealing with the DPRK to Beijing.

What should be done? Washington's policy of "strategic patience" had merit when first introduced. The Obama administration was right to avoid rewarding the DPRK for bad behavior. And Washington should never yield to coercion. But while Washington has been practicing strategic patience, the DPRK has been patiently building up its strategic forces.

The Obama administration needs patience, but it also needs more strategy. Long term, this means focusing on the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula. This argues for engagement, not isolation.

For now, the Obama administration should heed the advice of Dr. Siegfried Hecker, former director of Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory, and William Perry, former secretary of defense. Both have endorsed negotiations with the DPRK to convince the DPRK to agree to "Three Nos": 1) No new weapons; 2) No better weapons; and 3) No transfer of nuclear technology or weapons.

Admittedly, this objective falls far short of the ultimate goal of completely dismantling the North's nuclear weapons program. But it's better for the United States and its allies to hit this target than to allow the DPRK to hit theirs.

(Frank Jannuzi, president and chief executive officer of The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, is a former policy director for East Asian and Pacific affairs for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.)




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