Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

North Korea ain’t going away, unfortunately for all of us

I personally think we should ignore North Korea to the degree possible, and respond only indirectly, at times and places of our choosing. Like just freezing the regime’s personal accounts whenever they are detected. Or quietly messing up luxury goods being shipped to North Korea. Here’s a take of one of my CNAS colleagues. By ...

Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images

I personally think we should ignore North Korea to the degree possible, and respond only indirectly, at times and places of our choosing. Like just freezing the regime's personal accounts whenever they are detected. Or quietly messing up luxury goods being shipped to North Korea.

Here's a take of one of my CNAS colleagues.

By Bailey Culp
Best Defense East Asian provocations deputy bureau chief

I personally think we should ignore North Korea to the degree possible, and respond only indirectly, at times and places of our choosing. Like just freezing the regime’s personal accounts whenever they are detected. Or quietly messing up luxury goods being shipped to North Korea.

Here’s a take of one of my CNAS colleagues.

By Bailey Culp
Best Defense East Asian provocations deputy bureau chief

Things are certainly heating up on the Korean peninsula. Just yesterday, it was reported that North Korea had killed two South Korean soldiers and wounded three civilians after firing artillery rounds onto Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea. This provocation comes a few days after the revelation of a modern nuclear enrichment facility and only a few months after the sinking of the Cheonan, when North Korea is reliably reported to have torpedoed a South Korean naval vessel and killed 46 sailors.

As it happens, on Monday I strolled over to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) to see what the illuminati were thinking about NoKo. The discussion began with an analysis regarding North Korea’s recent nuclear development, publicized in a report by scientist and Stanford professor Siegfried S. Hecker, who visited Yongbyon Nuclear Complex earlier this month. According to one panelist, this news "confirms our worst suspicions." Nevertheless, while it comes as a surprise that the facilities are much more sophisticated than we expected, it is no surprise the North Koreans were seeking to advance their nuclear capabilities and have improved upon existing infrastructure.

Bottom line is that North Korea seeks survival as its core interest, but we don’t know quite what the regime is willing to do to achieve survival. Recent provocations help gauge the levels of vulnerability felt by the North Korean regime and are indicative of how far the regime will go.

Ultimately, the United States is going to have to accept North Korea for what it is, a small, troublesome possessor of nuclear weapons, rather than what we want it to be — a denuclearized, internationally compliant nation. This does not mean the recent actions of North Korea will be excused or that neighboring countries will acquiesce to its continued provocations. It is difficult to take the offensive with a regime so shrouded and unpredictable, and that has nothing to lose and everything to gain, so it is likely the international community will remain on the defensive, seeking to contain this mess until it eventually, sooner or probably later, somehow collapses.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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