North Korea has grabbed international headlines. Again. Pyongyang staged its 4th nuclear test, supposedly a thermonuclear device.
Proposals for more sanctions and further isolation likely will grow. However, the test dramatically demonstrated that the U.S. attempt to build a cordon sanitaire around the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has failed.
Washington instead should develop a new policy focused on engagement, not denuclearization. The latter should remain an objective, but even if it remains out of reach the U.S. might be able to reduce military threats on the peninsula.
As always, North Korean foreign policy reflects domestic politics. The test also gives Pyongyang greater leverage in its attempt to engage both South Korea and the U.S.
Talks with the Republic of Korea recently ended without result. The North also long has sought to draw the U.S. into bilateral discussions. However, the Obama administration set as a precondition for any talks that Pyongyang take steps toward dismantling its nuclear program, a non-starter.
In dealing with the North there are only second-best options which might ameliorate the threat otherwise posed by a famously enigmatic, persistently paranoid, and potentially unstable nuclear-armed state viewing itself in a perpetual state of war with America and its allies, South Korea and Japan.