The Magazine

Not too Late to Curb Dear Leader

The road to Pyongyang runs through Beijing.

Feb 12, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 21 • By AARON FRIEDBERG and DAN BLUMENTHAL
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

First, instead of backing off, the president should authorize the imposition of further financial sanctions on the North. He should also quietly tell Beijing that, unless it is willing to clean its own house, the U.S. government will follow the money trail of North Korea's counterfeiting and smuggling wherever it leads, even if this means going after banks, front companies, and individuals in China.

Second, instead of endlessly praising Beijing for its thus far fruitless efforts, the administration should make clear that failure to bring the North Korean issue to a satisfactory resolution will inevitably have consequences for U.S.-China relations. The White House now faces a Democratic majority in Congress that may press for protectionist measures against China. Fending off such demands with the argument that China is an essential diplomatic partner and a "responsible stakeholder" will be much harder, the administration should make clear, if Beijing fails to deliver on North Korea.

Finally, the U.S. government needs to make clear that, regardless of how events unfold, it will do what is necessary to defend its own interests and to help its Asian allies defend theirs. If North Korea's nuclear programs are not rolled back, Washington cannot be expected indefinitely to be able to keep the Japanese nuclear genie in the bottle. Faced with a hostile regime that is expanding its nuclear arsenal and threatening to sell nuclear technology and materials, Washington can lead a regional coalition to contain and deter North Korea and to work toward a unified, democratic Korean peninsula. This may require, among other things, a larger U.S. military presence off China's coasts, more aggressive interdiction efforts against North Korean ships and aircraft, more attempts to help North Korean citizens escape, and greater integration of missile defense and other programs with Japan and perhaps also South Korea and Taiwan.

As in Iraq, there are no easy options and no guarantees of success. But in Asia, as in the Middle East, it is also plain that "staying the course," or trying again what failed in the past, is not an acceptable strategy.

Aaron Friedberg is a professor of politics at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School and a former deputy national security adviser to Vice President Cheney. Dan Blumenthal is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and former senior director for China and Taiwan in the office of the secretary of defense.