North Korea’s fourth nuclear test may be its most consequential, but the world is limited in how far it can respond because China must be on board.
Though the Obama administration disputed North Korea’s assertion that it had tested a hydrogen bomb, which would be the most powerful nuclear weapon the country has ever tested, the act violated international treaties, showing that measures to rein in Pyongyang have failed.
Still, unless North Korea’s powerful backer, China, agrees to change course and strengthen sanctions in a way that hampers Pyongyang’s economy and brings the regime near collapse, nuclear experts say the the country’s young leader, Kim Jong-un, will remain undeterred.
“Basically, North Korea is committed to developing a nuclear weapons program, and we don’t have the policy tools to convince them or force them to give it up,” said Gary Samore, President Barack Obama’s former chief adviser on nuclear policy.
“If you look at the tools available and the magnitude of the problem, it can’t be resolved as long as the North Korean regime survives,” Samore continued in an interview with The Daily Signal.
“The best we can do is slow down and delay program, and I think we have done that.”
Bruce Klinger of the Heritage Foundation, who served as the CIA’s deputy division chief for Korea analysis, argues that the Obama administration is not “fully implementing” U.S. laws against North Korea.
“Obama has said North Korea is the most heavily sanctioned country in the world, and there’s not much more we can do, but that’s not true,” Klinger told The Daily Signal. “We are not making the pain strong enough for North Korea to change policy. This administration has had a policy of timid incrementalism. But under existing U.S. law, there are things we can do, because we have done them to other countries.”
Samore said Obama’s strategy to confront North Korea has been similar to those of past presidents, whose diplomatic overtures were frustrated by a regime that ignores international pressure, while the most powerful potential partner in that effort, China, has proved unwilling to take major action.
“What’s remarkable is how consistent U.S. policy has been over last three presidents, and how consistently it has failed,” said Samore, who also worked on nuclear issues in the Clinton and Reagan administrations. “We are really limited in what we can do as long as China has fundamentally different national interests.”
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