October 19, 2006

As the United States joins the rest of the world in wringing its hands over North Korea's nuclear belligerence,  and nations ponder whether more sanctions are needed, it's time to acknowledge that what the world is doing in the face of the growing nuclear club is not working.

It's not working in Iran, it's not working in North Korea and it's not working in terms of preventing nuclear weaponry (or the components) from getting into the hands of rogue nations and terrorists.

It's time to rethink the approach. The stick approach does not appear to be working. It's apparent that diplomacy is not the strong point of the current administration and that the United Nations can't get out of its own way on this issue.

In terms of North Korea, we need to consider whether a carrot may be more effective than the stick. Food and fuel sanctions for a nation that already has a problem feeding itself are inhumane responses. They only punish the poor and powerless while those in policy-making positions do not suffer.

Even totalitarian regimes are vulnerable to mass uprisings of citizen revolt. Throngs outnumbering police and military might have created change and movement in China and beyond. In November 2004 thousands upon thousands of protesters took to the streets in the Ukraine to protest election irregularities - and did not go home until the Ukrainian government and Russian president Vladimir Putin acknowledged the need for new elections.

How effective might it be to park 500,000 metric tons of grain on or near some North Korean border? North Korea currently lacks 800,000 metric tons of grain, approximately one-sixth of that nation's total annual food needs.

Estimates suggest that one million North Koreans died during the 1990s due to food shortages and hunger-related diseases. Can the world in good conscience further punish the citizens of North Korea?

When the same wrong-headed strategy doesn't work repeatedly, it's time to try something different. In the case of North Korea, the stick is ineffective and, like the failed U.N. sanctions against Iraq, simply causes more humanitarian suffering without effecting any policy change on the part of leaders.