But Kim's nuclear test -- though a small bang in a cave -- may have finally wrecked his nuclear racket.
South Korea's "sunshine" policy -- intended to nudge North Korea toward modernity -- has failed. Kim's July missile volley ended Japan's policy of public quiescence and private uneasiness. Likewise, U.S. diplomacy, aimed at ending North Korea's emerging nuclear threat, has failed. The Clinton administration attempted to buy the nukes with economic carrots, the Bush administration (with its six-nation talks) tried to pry the nukes loose using a diplomatic "squeeze." Neither gambit worked, because both strategies to be effective relied on steady Chinese cooperation.
Which is why the nuke test may boomerang on Pyongyang.
North Korea's July missile volley embarrassed China. The nuclear test appears to have galvanized it. Chinese security specialist Shen Dingli said last week that North Korea "considers its national interests (in acquiring nuclear weapons) to be greater than its relations with China." In Shen's words, China's diplomacy has also "been a failure."
Kim's nuke test publicly exposes China's failure -- a major power's failure on its own border.
No one likes to lose face, but "face" is particularly important in North Asian diplomacy.
Forcing North Korea to kowtow (in the regional parlance) is a way for China to re-establish its political position. But this must be done without resort to war.
That suggests a land and maritime embargo of North Korea, with the Hermit Kingdom's borders hermetically sealed. An embargo is the "stick" the Bush administration's "six-nation" diplomacy lacked. Such a cooperative international operation might actually "pry the nukes" from Pyongyang. An effective embargo requires a committed China. It's time for China to demonstrate the political will to protect its own linked economic interests.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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