Jeff Jacoby

Fail to forcefully confront a thug and you generally guarantee that his thuggish behavior will continue. That's true of schoolyard bullies and urban criminals; it's no less true of rogue states run by barbaric gangsters. Yet when it comes to the pathological regime in North Korea, the conventional wisdom throws up its hands and laments that there are no good options for confronting Kim Jong-il over his aggressive provocations.

North Korea's attack on a South Korean island last week -- a 50-minute barrage that that left four people dead and reduced dozens of homes to smoking ruins -- was an act of war. It marked the first direct artillery attack on South Korean territory since the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War. And what price has Pyongyang paid for its lethal assault? So far, none.

The shelling of Yeonpyeong Island was only the latest outrage for which North Korea has gone unpunished. A few days earlier there'd been the revelation of its new, state-of-the-art uranium enrichment plant. Stanford University nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker returned from the North to report that the "astonishingly modern" facility contains as many as 2,000 centrifuges capable of being "readily converted to produce highly enriched uranium bomb fuel." And it was just eight months ago that a North Korean torpedo sank the Cheonan, a gunboat patrolling South Korean waters. The attack came without warning, and killed 46 South Korean sailors.

Yet for none of these crimes and provocations has there been any meaningful reprisal -- just as there was none last year when North Korea illegally detonated a nuclear weapon and launched ballistic missiles in violation of a UN Security Council ban.

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for