To tackle North Korea, focus on Russia and China
March 7th, 2013
02:50 PM ET

To tackle North Korea, focus on Russia and China

By Stephen Yates, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Stephen Yates is former deputy national security advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney and currently CEO of DC International Advisory, a consulting firm. The views expressed are his own.

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously passed a new resolution sanctioning North Korea for its third nuclear test. North Korea's reaction to the announcement of a vote?  Threatening to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the United States.

This latest verbal volley is likely bluster, but there is a troubling quality to what we see in North Korea, and it is strategically significant.

On the surface it appears to be a cyclical melodrama – a spoiled child seeking attention or a cynical rogue extracting rewards for bad behavior. But over the last 20 years we have been through multiple leadership changes, multilateral and bilateral negotiations, humanitarian aid and U.N. sanctions, and the one constant is the steady progress North Korea has made on enrichment and other requirements for nuclear weapons. And that progress appears to have accelerated since Kim Jung Un succeeded his father.

Academics and diplomats consistently find ways to minimize the nature of the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear and missile capabilities. While dutifully couched in tough sounding analysis, their common prescription is reduced to continuing what we know has not worked for two decades – new sanctions, new negotiations, and continued assumption that China shares an interest in denuclearizing North Korea.

More from CNN: North Korea threatens to end armistice

Unfortunately, those with responsibility for the safety of troops, allies, and the U.S. homeland cannot operate under the assumption that the academics and diplomats might one day prove correct.  They have to deal with the reality of the capabilities they see emerging and the prospect that the dire warning coming from a rogue leader might one day be real.

We cannot know whether or when North Korea will choose again to demonstrate its ability to deliver and detonate a nuclear device.  We do know that North Korean nuclear technology has proliferated as far as the Syrian facility destroyed in 2007, that no form of dialogue or sanctions kept North Korea from achieving breakout capability, and no sanctions targeting only North Korea or Iran have changed the enabling behavior of Russia and China.

Changing the enabling behavior of Russia and China should be the highest priority for the U.S. and its allies. Targeting the behavior of Iran and North Korea alone has not worked. These emerging threats are linked and have the potential to significantly weaken U.S. influence and interests in two vital regions. Over time, neighboring nations increasingly see that they likely cannot rely on U.S.-led efforts alone to preserve their own national and regional security.

Absent a new approach, the U.S. faces an increasingly proliferated world, weakened alliances, and a likely rebalancing of power in Asia and the Middle East that favors Iran and China. More of the same will not keep America safe.

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Topics: Asia • China • Iran • North Korea

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soundoff (91 Responses)
  1. WWIII

    History have proved that every single Empires has fallen, and that every single Empires will fall again. Being an Empire is a threat to the world. Every nations who want to be an Empire becomes a target sooner or later.

    March 8, 2013 at 8:34 am | Reply
  2. Heliskier59

    As the US takes over as the world's leading producer of cheap energy look to see manufacturing relocate here. With energy and the economy on a rebound the US will be able to leverage that position to convince China and Russia to clean up NK.....I think the Chinese and Russia understand economic power and will not do anything to try to impede the growth of their own.

    March 8, 2013 at 8:45 am | Reply
  3. Brave Captain of Industry

    The solution to the problem on the peninsula is simple: drop tens of millions of Korean language iPhones (plus lots of solar charges) and encircle them with high quality WiFi transmitters.

    In a few years, at most, you will see major political changes afoot.

    March 8, 2013 at 8:50 am | Reply
  4. Awaiting moderation

    We need to loan them Obama for a while.

    March 8, 2013 at 8:53 am | Reply
  5. Great and Powerful Oz

    Hey look! It's the Lollipop Guild!!!

    March 8, 2013 at 8:57 am | Reply
  6. karthick

    the real truth is the division of north and south Korea.if they stand united nobody will dominate them otherwise they are in stalemate.

    March 9, 2013 at 7:55 am | Reply
  7. 2bits

    This will all end badly in a few years. Too many triggers, too many itchy fingers.

    March 9, 2013 at 10:26 am | Reply
  8. Steve

    To tackle North Korea, tackle South Korea, first. We have trust-worthy information that Koreans (it does not matter if North or South) are playing against Western interest and against United States. We need stop Koreans now, and not allow them any strikes against Westerners.

    March 10, 2013 at 11:17 am | Reply
  9. Mario

    We in Italy believe in Western Union, NATO! ... no North, no South Korea.

    March 11, 2013 at 7:00 am | Reply
  10. mitchslagghorn

    Ohh, so Mr. Yates id the guy that was in Cheney's ear, and now I can assume that
    all the really stupid stuff that came out of "Richard's" mouth was not all his own.
    How comforting. Bristling at Russia and China is not in the U.S.'s favor, not a good idea.
    Trying to manipulate them to take some kind of action on our behalf, really doesn't
    add to our reputation as the most powerful nation on the planet.
    "Tackling" a seriously weak and and wildly stupid country like North Korea, is also
    quite an over-reaction. To put it simply, "speak softly, and carry a big stick", or in modern
    terms, "touch me and you die" works also. North Korea has been rattling sabers for
    decades, let them. Fear, is exactly what they want. Ain't happenin

    March 22, 2013 at 9:54 pm | Reply
  11. mitchslagghorn

    Ohh, so Mr. Yates id the guy that was in Cheney's ear, and now I can assume that
    all the really stupid stuff that came out of "Richard's" mouth was not all his own.
    How comforting. Bristling at Russia and China is not in the U.S.'s favor, not a good idea.
    Trying to manipulate them to take some kind of action on our behalf, really doesn't
    add to our reputation as the most powerful nation on the planet.
    "Tackling" a seriously weak and and wildly stupid country like North Korea, is also
    quite an over-reaction. To put it simply, "speak softly, and carry a big stick", or in modern
    terms, "touch me and you die" works also. North Korea has been rattling sabers for
    decades, let them. Fear, is exactly what they want. Ain't happenin

    March 22, 2013 at 9:54 pm | Reply
  12. seo

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    April 24, 2013 at 8:34 pm | Reply
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