There is one huge problem with this "engagement" game plan: North Korea has no interest in granting America or its allies a lasting regional peace. Understanding this unwelcome but critical fact is the first step toward a strategy that could make the North Korean problem smaller, not larger, over time.
These quintessential features of the regime help explain why all of the many Western diplomatic initiatives over the past two decades have failed: the Agreed Framework of 1994, the Perry Process of 1999, South Korea's "Sunshine Policy" of 1998 to 2008, the intermittent six-party talks since 2003 and others less well remembered. It also explains why future diplomatic overtures will fail. There can be no "getting to yes" with a regime that regards its negotiating partners as fundamentally illegitimate, no matter what diplomatic eminences may otherwise counsel.
The best response to North Korea's shakedown diplomacy is a threat-reduction strategy: a coherent long-term plan to reduce the regime's capabilities for extortion and the dividends it can expect to reap from predation. The heart of such an approach must be deeds not words—sustained actions, and credible responses, in both military and nonmilitary arenas.
Such a threat-reduction strategy requires all of the deterrence policies currently in force—and more. Militarily, a threat-reduction strategy means steadily implementing countermeasures to deny Pyongyang's ability to inflict damage on other countries. These countermeasures include broadly enhanced missile defense, big improvements in the "counter-battery systems" for suppressing the thousands of artillery tubes trained on South Korea from just across the Demilitarized Zone dividing the countries, and a civil-defense system worthy of the name for South Korea's capital city, Seoul.
The strategy also includes zero tolerance for international "crises" that the North Korean regime routinely manufactures. Pyongyang's inclination for adventurism will be smaller, not greater, if the leadership has to fear it may lose a little face the next time the regime stokes a foreign confrontation.
- May 5, 2013, 7:07 p.m. ET