The recent disclosure of North Korea’s secret program to enrich uranium for a nuclear bomb is, in no uncertain terms, a threat to regional stability and world peace. North Korea clearly breached the terms of both the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which it signed in 1988, and the 1994 Framework Agreement with the U.S. It has unquestionably shown itself to be dangerous and untrustworthy.
Just because North Korea is untrustworthy, however, does not mean that it will never abandon its search for nuclear weapons. The Bush administration should re-engage the North Koreans and act in conjunction with regional leaders to ensure that Kim Jong Il eventually desists from nuclear proliferation.
This goal cannot be accomplished without the cooperation of China, North Korea’s most significant ally both ideologically and economically. During his recent visit to Crawford, Texas, Chinese President Jiang Zemin asserted that he hopes to see a Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons and that he will aid the Bush administration in exerting pressure on North Korea to forego its nuclear development project. Despite these positive statements, it remains to be seen whether, after the Nov. 8 Party Congress during which it is expected that Jiang will step down, China will continue to pursue the issue in the same manner.
The Bush administration must be careful of the way in which it engages China’s new leadership on the issue of North Korean nuclear weapons. The most effective means of guiding China’s policies into alignment with those of the United States will be through closer economic cooperation between the two nations. The more that China has a stake in international organizations and Western economies, the more likely it is that Sino-American priorities will overlap—particularly when it comes to issues of regional stability. On the other hand, if the U.S. tries to force China to take action against North Korea, China will more likely ignore America’s requests.
Many Asian nations have accused the Bush administration of being too confrontational in its recent dealings with North Korea. The administration should take this criticism to heart. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” serves only to isolate and alienate North Korea further, making productive diplomacy more difficult. It is counterproductive, juvenile rhetoric that must be abandoned.
There is no way that the United States can single-handedly disarm North Korea. It is imperative that Bush work cooperatively to engage both Kim and America’s other regional allies, particularly China.
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