North Korea’s claim today that it successfully tested a hydrogen bomb has shifted U.S. policy toward the “Hermit Kingdom” back into the limelight.
In remarks alongside South Korean President Park Geun-Hye in the White House in October, President Obama said the United States “will never accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state.”
While it could take days or even weeks to confirm the truth behind North Korea’s announcement — the White House claims initial evidence does not support the claim of a hydrogen bomb — complex questions remain over what exactly the global community can do to push back against repeated provocations by the hostile nation.
Despite an excess of sanctions already in place against North Korea, David Albright of the nonprofit Institute for Science and International Security said today there are still more ways to financially penalize and pressure the country’s leaders.
“As it did in the case of Iran several years ago, Congress should act,” Albright said. “It should pass bipartisan financial and secondary sanctions legislation that increases the costs on North Korea and on those suppliers who support or turn a blind eye to its nuclear weapons endeavors.”
In a post online, Victor Cha, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the U.N. Security Council is expected this week to authorize a new resolution calling for ramped up sanctions.
That’s despite the past three sanctions resolutions having no apparent effect on North Korea’s behavior.
But Jonathan Pollack, a senior fellow in the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, said the international community should not lose faith in the power of U.N. sanctions and shift more focus to the banking sector.
Pollack stressed, however, it’s essential that North Korea’s strongest ally, China, commits to join in order for those to have a lasting effect.
Rallying China’s Help
Pollack told ABC News in a phone interview that China seems to have been caught off guard by the North Korean test, which he said could prove to be a big mistake by the country.
“This is truly the purest case of biting the hand that feeds you,” Pollack said.
In terms of sanctions, Pollack said, China may feel more pressured after being caught off guard in the wake of this nuclear test to go along with sanctions that would have a bite that the North Koreans, in turn, could not ignore.
Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund foundation, told ABC News that North Korea has developed a predictable pattern in its provocations, and the United States should counter it with an unpredictable move.
“I think we have to acknowledge that the process of not talking to them hasn’t worked,” Cirincione said. “You have to re-engage North Korea, as odious as that seems.”
Cirincione said China would be essential in re-engaging the North Koreans, and said the U.S. policy of isolation has made way for a “fatal attraction syndrome” where North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un continues to provoke until he receives a response.
“They will not be ignored,” Cirincione said. “This new, young, still untested leader, is trying to demonstrate that he’s the man, that he’s in control. So it’s one test, one brag after another to show that he’s advancing the country.”
Throughout the negotiations for the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program, one of the outside debates was whether the United States had the capabilities to strike an Iranian nuclear facility to preempt a potential nuclear attack.
That option, according to Pollack, is still not seen as viable in the case of North Korea.
“The costs and risks of that are extreme,” Pollack said. “There is still little known about North Korea’s accumulation of fissile material. It would be a situation that could have real negative effects for all outside countries involved.”
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