There is no easy answer to the prospect of a nuclear Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. A preemptive war against Pyongyang, even if the strikes were initially directed only at the North’s nuclear facilities, would create an unacceptable risk of full-scale war on the peninsula. Sanctions would create their own set of risks. Current punitive economic measures have increased the suffering of millions of North Koreans but have not succeeded in altering President Kim Jong-il’s behavior. Further sanctions would certainly not work without the support of the surrounding countries.
Multilateral negotiations and pressure from the four regional powers—China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea—offer the best hope of forestalling North Korean production and sale of nuclear weapons. A regional approach will force Washington to consider the wishes of the DPRK’s neighbors, none of whom is eager to destabilize the North. The Bush administration should be willing to cooperate with the other regional powers.
Given that the North Korean nuclear program poses a far greater threat to the DPRK’s neighbors than to the United States, the United States should demand that those countries become involved in developing a multilateral solution. Each country may have different rea-sons for wanting to resolve the crisis peacefully, and the Bush administration has hoped that those considerations would encourage each party to come to the table. But Washington should do more than hope. Policymakers should structure their diplomatic efforts to highlight the mutual interests at stake in the crisis. The United States, in the process, should begin reducing its profile in the region.