Tue, 26 May 2009 19:09:15 +0000 – By K.T. McFarlandNational Security Expert/Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense
North Korea. Missile tests. Nuclear bombs. More missile tests. Belligerence. Can anything stop North Korea's nuclear program?
Nothing has worked so far. Not bilateral negotiations. Not UN sanctions. Not six party talks. Should the world stand helplessly by and watch North Korea develop a nuclear arsenal which it can use to terrorize the region or export to rogue states around the world?
What's left? Where is the leverage? It all boils down to China. I've just returned from a week in Asia, and even with the global recession, it is one economic success story after another - China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan - and then there's North Korea - a country so closed off from the world that it cannot provide for the basic needs of its people and cannot exist without the food, fuel, and gasoline subsidies it gets from China.
So far, China has been unwilling to pressure the North Koreans. It hasn't wanted to publicly rebuke an ally, and it's worried if the North Korean government collapses, millions of refugees will stream across the border into China.
But things in that part of the world are changing. If the North Korean nuclear program continues, Japan and South Korea could feel pressured to develop their own nuclear weapons. And an economically powerful, nuclear Japan is China's biggest nightmare. China's attitude could be changing.
In the end, however, the biggest threat to the United States isn't that North Korea will wake up some morning and decide to nuke San Francisco. It's that they will sell their one export -- nuclear weapons -- to countries or terrorist groups -- that intend to do us harm. And here is where the UN might finally be effective -- if their sanctions allow the world community to board -- and seize -- anything leaving North Korean ports which looks suspiciously like nuclear weapons.