All the Players at the Table: A Multilateral Solution to the North Korean Nuclear Crisis

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There is no easy answer to the prospect of anuclear Democratic People's Republic of Korea.A preemptive war against Pyongyang, even if thestrikes were initially directed only at the North'snuclear facilities, would create an unacceptablerisk of full-scale war on the peninsula. Sanctionswould create their own set of risks. Current punitiveeconomic measures have increased the sufferingof millions of North Koreans but have notsucceeded in altering President Kim Jong-il'sbehavior. Further sanctions would certainly notwork without the support of the surroundingcountries.

Multilateral negotiations and pressure fromthe four regional powers--China, Japan, Russia,and South Korea--offer the best hope of forestallingNorth Korean production and sale ofnuclear weapons. A regional approach will forceWashington to consider the wishes of theDPRK's neighbors, none of whom is eager todestabilize the North. The Bush administrationshould be willing to cooperate with the otherregional powers.

Given that the North Korean nuclear programposes a far greater threat to the DPRK'sneighbors than to the United States, the UnitedStates should demand that those countriesbecome involved in developing a multilateralsolution. Each country may have different rea-sonsfor wanting to resolve the crisis peacefully,and the Bush administration has hoped thatthose considerations would encourage eachparty to come to the table. But Washingtonshould do more than hope. Policymakers shouldstructure their diplomatic efforts to highlightthe mutual interests at stake in the crisis. TheUnited States, in the process, should beginreducing its profile in the region.

Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. He is a former special assistant to President Reagan and visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He is currently at work on a new book on Korea. Coauthored with Ted Galen Carpenter, Korean Conundrum: America's Troubled Relations with North and South Korea is scheduled to be published in spring 2004.