By Stephen Yates, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Stephen J. Yates is former Deputy Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs (2001-2005) and currently CEO of DC International Advisory. The views expressed are his own.
North Korea’s seemingly successful long-range missile test presents a significant challenge to the U.S. and its allies.
This is North Korea’s most successful provocation since demonstrating the ability to detonate a nuclear device in 2006. North Korea has now demonstrated a significant leap in its long-range missile capability, and it would be a mistake to assume further leaps forward are beyond its reach in the not too distant future. New and very young leader Kim Jong Un has succeeded where his father did not – a major propaganda victory for him.
While not the reason the Obama administration had in mind when announcing its supposed pivot to Asia, a nuclear capable rogue showing off a newly proven delivery capability has a way of seizing international attention not otherwise given to Northeast Asia in recent years.
The initial White House reaction was appropriate. North Korea’s actions are irresponsible, provocative, and a threat to regional security. But that is not all they are. Given the established record of proliferation ties between North Korea and bad actors in the broader Middle East, North Korea’s new capability is a threat to global security and a shocking rebuke to the efficacy of the several multilateral and bilateral measures that were supposed to prevent just this kind of breakout.
The typical cycle of past North Korean provocations eventually resulted in sanctions being lifted and other inducements given in exchange for North Korean return to previous U.N. or bilateral commitments. Unlike the Clinton and Bush administrations, the Obama administration to date had not indulged North Korea in that cynical process, but it also has offered no new strategy of its own. Having condemned North Korea's actions as provocative and threatening, the White House must now define what (if any) consequences North Korea will face.
Beyond pro-forma condemnation at the United Nations and elsewhere, the U.S. should press for a multilateral cessation of trade and aid with North Korea and should openly discuss expansion of regional missile defense capabilities (like the Iron Dome system deployed in Gaza conflict). And given the significant propaganda boost this test provided within North Korea, it is all the more important that the U.S. and its allies more aggressively and effectively broadcast the truth into North Korea.
China should be named and shamed for its role in enabling North Korea to remain and grow as a threat. North Korea is one of the most sanctioned countries on the planet, but Beijing (with only brief exceptions) has effectively watered down and otherwise dulled the impact of international sanctions on North Korean “stability.”
Beijing no doubt would be horrified by the prospect of an international review of the many ways North Korea’s illicit activities involve Chinese institutions, territory, and personnel, but such a comprehensive audit would be entirely appropriate. And China should no longer be enabled to hide behind the entirely false threat of migration (North Korea’s entire population would represent a small share of the population of any given Chinese province, much less the Chinese nation, and under no scenario would every North Korean make his or her way across the border.)
Most important of all, under no circumstances should the administration allow this kind of provocation to resume the failed bilateral and multilateral negotiation patterns of previous administrations.