Politics

North Korea Has Our Attention. Now What?

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Well, North Korea has the world’s attention. Exploding a nuclear bomb and launching missile tests will do that. All that’s left now is for the world to respond.

North Korea has long been a foreign policy conundrum, frustrating a long line of U.S. presidents who’ve attempted to stop the so-called hermit nation from threatening its neighbors. North Korea’s leadership has repeatedly placed raw pride over any other consideration, content to let their people suffer rather than enter normal relations with the world. To complicate matters more, both Russia and China have, at various times, backed North Korea, finding such alliances a convenient way to irritate the United States and our allies or, in China’s case, the easiest way to prevent massive numbers of refugees from streaming over their border.

Has this latest outburst from North Korea changed anything? Early indications are that, if nothing else, the world is generally united against Pyongyang.

Russia, which called the test a “serious blow” to the effort to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, suspended a Russia-North Korean intergovernmental trade and economic commission, apparently in response to the nuclear test. The slap on the wrist was a telling indication that Moscow, once a key backer of North Korea, was unhappy with Pyongyang.

And China, which has been the closest thing North Korea has to a friend, is reacting by holding high-level meetings with South Korea to discuss ways to respond.

At this point, I doubt China will want to do anything which might create the feared refugee crisis. And outside of military action – which really isn’t on the table for a large number of reasons – nothing will change in North Korea without Chinese intervention. That leaves President Obama in an unenviable position. He has to take a tough stand but knows he’s no more likely to directly affect North Korea than were his predecessors. As such, his best bet is to work behind the scenes with Chinese and Russian officials (because it’s always prudent to include the Russians in these matters) to develop a coordinated and meaningful response.

Unfortunately, that’s not the kind of resolute response presidents (and the American people) prefer. But I’m not exactly sure what other options we have.