Leon Sigal

Despite the promise of change, the Obama administration has started to address North Korea just as the Clinton and Bush administrations did–accusing it of wrongdoing and trying to punish it for its transgressions. As Pyongyang’s recent nuclear test demonstrates, the crime-and-punishment approach has never worked in the past and it won’t work now. Instead, sustained diplomatic give-and-take is the only way to stop future North Korean nuclear and missile tests and convince it to halt its nuclear program.

Pyongyang was not alone in failing to keep its agreements. Unfortunately, Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul didn’t manage to keep theirs either.
The current crisis truly began last June when North Korea handed China a written declaration of its plutonium program, as it was obliged to do under the October 3, 2007 Six-Party joint statement on second-phase actions. In a side agreement with Washington, Pyongyang committed to disclose its uranium enrichment and proliferation activities, including the help it had provided for Syria’s nuclear reactor.

Many in Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul were quick to question whether the declaration was “complete and correct,” prompting the Bush administration to demand arrangements to verify the declaration before completing disabling and moving on to permanent dismantlement of North Korea’s plutonium facilities. However, the October 2007 accord had no provision for verification.

This article appeared at The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists on May 29, 2009.
Leon V. Sigal directs the Northeast Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council in New York. He is the author of Disarming Strangers: Nuclear Diplomacy with North Korea.

Recommended citation: Leon V. Sigal, “Why Punishing North Korea Won’t Work: Toward Resolution of the US-North Korea Conflict,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 23-1-09, June 8, 2009.