For several years North Korea has been acting erratically in military matters. In March 2010, a North Korea torpedo sank the South Korean ship Cheonan. In the same vicinity in November of that year, North Korean artillery bombarded South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island.
In late February 2012, North Korea agreed yet again to cease its on-again, off-again nuclear program. In joint announcements coordinated with the State Department, the regime agreed to halt enrichment of uranium and construction of weapons and permit international inspection of nuclear facilities.
Yet two months later, Pyongyang tested a missile. The launch ended in embarrassing failure. This erratic behavior, now over a fairly lengthy period, strongly implies infighting at the top.
President Barack Obama’s instinct for moderate language and international cooperation is welcome, but so is the current tough response to Pyongyang’s irresponsibility. The growing isolation of the surviving communist state provides an opportunity for Washington to strengthen ties with Beijing and Moscow as well as Seoul.
During the height of the Cold War, President Dwight D. Eisenhower provided an important lesson in the realities of war. Stalled Korean War armistice talks were quickly, successfully concluded following extraordinary obliteration bombing of North Korea. Ike knew how to get the most terrible yet essential jobs done, ruthlessly.
We must complement strong, mature public statements with our own preparations for military strikes, if such prove necessary. We must continue skillful diplomacy but be ready to act.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College.