As expected, North Korea conducted another nuclear test yesterday, its third since 2006. This one, if initial reports are to be believed, was the largest yet, and Pyongyang’s news service said it used a miniaturized device. That would be particularly worrying, since last December, it successfully launched a ballistic missile (which led to the U.N. sanctions that North Korea flouted by setting off the explosion yesterday). Marrying those two capabilities would change the face of Asia: a fully nuclear-armed, aggressive totalitarian state. The crucial test facing the Obama administration, and the world community, is what to do now?
Here’s what it should not do: go back to any denuclearization talks. Denuclearization is dead. The policy has failed. If the Obama administration marches into a blind alley by pretending there is a hope of denuclearization, we will waste another four years, and Pyongyang will likely perfect its nuclear program by then. Similarly, if we rely on the U.N., as presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett indicated we should this morning (video here), the empty resolutions will simply be ignored, as usual by North Korea, and likely, China.
The world’s focus must now be on containing North Korea and preventing it from proliferating its WMD. That means acknowledging North Korea is a nuclear state, and one that has a ballistic-missile capability, to boot. The game has moved, then, to limiting the fallout from Pyongyang’s nuclear program, and ensuring that it does not sell or transfer technology or weapons to Iran, other rogue regimes, or even terrorist groups. One path to doing so is by focusing on the Bush-era Proliferation Security Initiative, which was a voluntary agreement to prevent any transshipment of WMD. President Obama should not hesitate to order the U.S. Navy to track, stop, and take over any ship believed to be carrying North Korean contraband material, or give the U.S. Air Force the authority to intercept any plane ferrying such items.
Yet we know that China turned a blind eye to North Korean proliferation in the past, and so America must be prepared to levy significant punishment against China if evidence is discovered of its connivance in further North Korean proliferation. That may mean cutting diplomatic contact, ending military exchanges, and considering further measures. There is no other way to send a message of seriousness to Peking or to Pyongyang that Washington has fundamentally changed its policies.
North Korea has outwitted America and the world community for decades now. With yesterday’s test, we are one giant step closer to a fully-capable nuclear North Korea. That may even upend some of our alliances, and certainly increase the demands our allies make on us for protection. The time to start is now, by declaring that containment is our new policy and threatening overwhelming retaliation to kill the Kim regime should North Korea use any of its WMD on us or our allies.