U.S. confronts limits of 'shame and sanction' policy on North Korea

Barack Obama

North Korea's successful rocket launch poses a fresh quandary for the United States, underscoring how its "shame and sanction" approach to Pyongyang has failed to stop the country's dangerous advances in both nuclear and missile technology, analysts and officials said on Wednesday.

The Obama administration has condemned Wednesday's launch as a "highly provocative act" for which there would be "consequences" and has began working at the U.N. Security Council on steps which could broaden existing sanctions on North Korea - already the most isolated country in the world.

Officials say the immediate U.S. task is to try to win stronger support from China - North Korea's lone major ally - for enforcing existing sanctions and potentially agreeing to new steps such as adding more entities to the U.N. blacklist, banning travel and freezing assets of individual North Korean officials, and tightening of a cargo-inspection regime.

But beyond that, U.S. policy options look thin in the face of fresh evidence that North Korea is on its way toward marrying its nuclear program to a missile capable of hitting the U.S. West Coast.

"There has been an unspoken tendency in the United States to discount these tests as yet another foolish attempt by the technologically backward and bizarre country. This is no longer acceptable," Victor Cha, a North Korea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies wrote in an analysis following the launch.

"The question is, will the United States do something else given the new strategic threat posed by the North, or will we wait for them to cross the next threshold to becoming a full-fledged nuclear threat to the U.S. homeland?"


U.S. officials say their path has been complicated by continued resistance from Beijing, which is already embroiled in maritime territorial disputes with U.S. allies and wary of a U.S. strategy of rebalancing its military forces from the Middle East and South Asia toward the Asia-Pacific.

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