North Korea must face a united front
The chilling news that North Korea had launched test missiles — including one with the potential to reach our own shores and as far as Alaska — was a clear statement of defiance by the Kim Jong Il government, one that needs to be met with an equally clear statement from the international community about the consequences.
But given the complexities of the international relations arena, it's also important that diplomacy continue and that these efforts have the backing of global powers.
Issuing a rebuke and an invitation to continue talking, practically in the same breath, requires that our exchanges with the North Korean president be conducted in a calm and professional manner.
The United States does not need any more of the highly charged rhetoric seen earlier in the Bush administration, which effectively demonized the North Korean leader as a kingpin in the "axis of evil." Bush himself described Kim Jong Il as a "pygmy," an insult that was wholly unnecessary and unstatesmanlike. Indeed, this has done nothing to improve stability in Asia.
While American concerns have been largely focused on the Persian Gulf, it's clear that the Pacific Rim deserves more attention from the White House. And seeing Iran being offered help with its nuclear energy development, after a similar offer was withdrawn from North Korea, did not play well in Pyongyang.
It's encouraging to see that the administration now seems eager to allow the United Nations to take the lead in meting out sanctions for North Korea's act of aggression, rather than to fly solo with swaggering rhetoric.
The immediate goal should be to show the rebel state that it faces a unified coalition equipped to counter any military misadventures now, before North Korea manages a long-range missile test that works. As provocative behavior continues, a show of strength becomes more critical.
The equally important but more difficult challenge is to persuade the North that its own best interests will be served by directing its resources toward improving the welfare of its population, something that the U.S. and other developed nations should strongly support.
Neither the carrot nor the stick has worked so far to contain North Korea's military ambitions. Perhaps what is needed is a more finely honed combination of the two — one that firmly holds the line on aggression while providing the continuing opportunity for diplomatic resolutions.