Sanctions Against North Korea Would Only Hurt 'Weakest and Poorest'

By Lawrence Morahan | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

( - Imposing tough new sanctions against Pyongyang, as proposed by a bipartisan group of senators, would only hurt the poorest people in North Korea and would be unlikely to force the communists to dismantle their nuclear weapons program, national security experts said Tuesday.

"To assume that sanctions would work, one also has to assume that the North Korean government cares a whip about the welfare of the North Korean people. I think there is a total lack of evidence of such concern," said Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for foreign policy and defense studies at the Cato Institute.

The North Koreans are already on the brink of destitution, and economic sanctions "generally hit hardest at the weakest and poorest sectors of the target society," Carpenter noted.

Carpenter commented on S-145, a measure introduced Monday by Arizona Republicans John McCain and Jon Kyl, chairman of the GOP Policy Committee, together with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, which calls for tough measures against Pyongyang.

The legislation urges the Bush administration to withhold all aid to North Korea until Pyongyang dismantles its nuclear weapons program, including blocking a planned transfer of nuclear reactor technology.

The bill also calls on the president to seek United Nations sanctions against North Korea similar to those imposed on Iraq and to reinstate sanctions imposed on North Korea that President Bill Clinton lifted in 1999.

The bill would encourage the president to interdict weapons-related shipments to and from North Korea, make it easier for refugees to flee North Korea and provide funds for Radio Free Asia to increase its broadcasting to North Korea from two to 24 hours a day.

Commentators said, however, that while the bill has little chance of passing, it is meant to warn the Bush administration not to make more concessions to the communists.

Robert Maginnis, a national security expert and a former Army colonel, said that after imposing sanctions on fuel, there was little left for the United States to restrict. If enacted, the new proposal would only serve to punish the people of North Korea.

"The starving people are going to starve more, and they're going to be colder; life's going to get more miserable," said Maginnis, who served a year at the demilitarized zone in South Korea.

To get the communists to alter their course, the United States should enlist the support of South Korea and Japan, Maginnis said. In particular, the United States should use its considerable economic influence with the Chinese - North Korea's neighbor and one of its biggest trading partners - to pressure Pyongyang not to pursue its nuclear weapons program, he said.

China's offer Tuesday to host talks between the United States and North Korea "is not nearly enough," Maginnis said. "They've got to do a lot more.

"This is not necessarily just our problem, and yet, that's how it's being portrayed," he said.

Maginnis said he did not favor a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, but he said it would not be prudent to take that option off the table. The Pentagon leadership is not ruling out the withdrawal of 37,000 U.S. troops out of South Korea if the situation warrants, Maginnis said.

Carpenter said he opposed further negotiations with the North Koreans, especially if those negotiations lead to additional concessions.

"We've already paid for North Korea's agreement to freeze its nuclear weapons program. I don't like paying twice for something with no guarantee that they wouldn't cheat again," he said.

Rather than impose sanctions, however, Washington should make clear that if Pyongyang decides to become a nuclear state, the United States will not stand in the way of Japan and South Korea from developing nuclear weapons arsenals of their own, Carpenter said.

"The North Koreans might very well conclude that the status quo is preferable to that," he said. "But you have to play hardball with a regime like Pyongyang. You can't bribe it, they don't really respond to economic incentives, and war is just much too dangerous. So this is kind of the default option."

McCain, a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that the crisis created by North Korea's pursuit of a nuclear weapons arsenal "poses a direct threat to the security of the American people.

"Under the Agreed Framework, the United States pursued a policy that was all carrot and no stick. In doing so, it mistook resolving the North Korean crisis with merely postponing its apogee," he said.

At a press conference Tuesday, President Bush said he would reconsider a plan to give North Korea energy and food aid if Pyongyang dismantles its nuclear weapons program.

Bush said he expected the issue to be resolved peacefully, "and we expect them to disarm. We expect them not to develop nuclear weapons."

Before the North Korean nuclear crisis began, Bush said he instructed Secretary of State Colin Powell to "approach North Korea about a bold initiative" that would cover food and energy. "We care deeply about the suffering of the North Korean people," Bush said.

The United States is willing to talk to North Korea, Bush said. "But what this nation won't do is be blackmailed."

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