The question persists over North Korea’s nukes and draws new solutions and political machinations like clockwork. North Korea has entered into numerous talks, Agreed Frameworks and weapons conventions and exited each twice as quickly as it entered into them. No matter how many talks, deals, signings, and frameworks fail or fall through or are trespassed pundits and politicians on both sides of the Pacific continue to work on new ways of engaging North Korea.
Recently an East Asian Nuclear Free Zone has been propositioned, a sort of reimagining of a previous proposal. The Zone would include S. Korea and Japan and require the U.S., China, and Russia to declare the area a non-nuclear zone—i.e. they’d all promise to never use nukes during any conflict. The aim of the zone is to entice N. Korea into it with the promise of the United States refraining from nuclear use and removing any nuclear force from the region. Masashi Nishihara sees this as ludicrous and for good reason: North Korea is untrustworthy, unstable, and insane.
So why do we continue to engage them? They have nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and constantly threaten S. Korea if not sometimes bullying them. They’re a threat, sometimes an embarrassment, and have few friends….ahem, one friend. Kind of. So why do we keep thinking and trying to find new ways to make N. Korea give up their weapons? Part wish fulfillment (how nice would it be if they actually did give up their weapons?), part hegemonic responsibility (protecting our allies and, part deterrence (keep ‘em talkin’ and they won’t fight).
Is engagement going to be a continued process? President Obama thus far hasn’t pushed it and isn’t likely to because of the Cheonan incident, possibly seeing a belligerent N. Korea as unwilling and/or unworthy of talks. Or both. As engagement suggestions go the Nuclear Free Zone suggestion appears to be another kitchen sink, one that risks de-fanging U.S. security principals (if it acts as other NFZs then nuclear powered ships would also be prohibited from the zone). Yet, in the midst of transition, an invitation to talks with new leader—whenever he takes power—could prove adept in beginning to figure out who we’ll be dealing with for the foreseeable future. Kind of a cliff notes for the next four presidents.