Despite the Norths penchant for testing long-range missiles, such as the seven it launched this past July, the real concern here is not that North Korea will launch some sort of war against any country even Kim Jong Il has to realize that international military retaliation would be swift and decisive but that international nuclear non-proliferation has essentially failed. Non-proliferation of course has been traditionally understood to apply only to countries which are not permanent members of the United Nations Security Council: Great Britain, France, the United States, China and Russia developed nuclear weapons and tried to close the door to all other countries.
Whatever the moral implications of their exclusivity, non-proliferation and post-Cold War nuclear disarmament undoubtedly kept the world in general a safer place in the past. But in recent years Israel, Pakistan and India all put their feet through the door of the nuclear club (although Israel has never acknowledged that it has the bomb). Iran has declared its intentions to join them and is now enriching uranium.
Although the Bush administration has been focused on Irans efforts to go nuclear, ironically North Korea, which the administration has criminally ignored, beat Iran to it. The speed and unanimity of the international condemnation of the Norths test is commendable, and it is an especially good sign that China and South Korea, the Norths strongest supporters (China supplies the North with more than two-thirds of its food, and South Korea provides a critical boost to its economy with the sunshine engagement policy), joined the chorus unreservedly.
But whether or not the North actually has nuclear weapons, the United States and the international community cannot now afford to treat the North as if it does not. Thus the options for dealing with Kim Jong Il and his regime have narrowed significantly. Sanctions are already being discussed, and a resolution proposing them will probably be put to the Security Council soon. But the only real way the North could become more isolated would be if China were to discontinue its material shipments, which would undoubtedly lead to famine and the sort of border destabilization which China desperately wants to avoid.
Moreover, especially if sanctions are imposed, once the North proves to the world that its weapons work, it will probably try to sell them to whomever is interested. The days of non-proliferation norms, as well as those of the former status quo in East Asia, look to be numbered.
Despite labeling it a member of the Axis of Evil in 2002, President Bush never seemed to have much interest in North Korea. But much like the prospect of a hanging, this nuclear test seems to have focused his attentions wonderfully. Although the United States has ignored the North and its nuclear ambitions for far too long, it is still not too late to influence the situation for the better. President Clinton proved in 1994 that it is not impossible to talk to or even to make a deal with the North (although apparently the North violated the terms of that agreement in secret).
Negotiations are undoubtedly a pain compared with the shoot first, ask questions later clarity of military intervention, but negotiations with the countries in the region, with North Korea, with the UN Security Council may be the only way to keep the East Asian situation from deteriorating still further. And who knows what the North would be willing to give up in exchange for ensuring the survival of its regime? Maybe even nuclear weapons? One thing is for certain: no one will know until we try.
Opinions Editor Andrea Horbinski is a senior from Marlton, N.J. She majors in Classics with concentrations in linguistics and in Japan studies.