WASHINGTON - October 9 - North Korea's decision to break the nuclear test moratorium and attempt to explode a nuclear device earlier today is an unwelcome but manageable setback to the global effort to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons. The Friends Committee on National Legislation has worked for more than 60 years to end the scourge of nuclear weapons, and today we condemn unequivocally the North Korean decision to develop nuclear weapons.
The North Korean government's decision to conduct a nuclear test explosion is a predictable consequence of the failure of the Bush administration to develop a comprehensive diplomatic strategy toward the Korean peninsula. Ignoring the advice of analysts, former diplomats, and experts in East Asia, the administration has chosen to pursue a policy of confrontation with North Korea that began with President Bush's use of the phrase "axis of evil" in his first address to Congress. The U.S. government followed up this initial threat with calls for regime change in North Korea, a refusal to engage in direct, bilateral negotiations, and efforts to impose new sanctions. Now the entire world has to deal with the consequences of this reckless policy.
But North Korea's test demonstrates more than a failure of U.S. policy toward North Korea. Like the India and Pakistan nuclear test explosions in the last few years, this test reflects a failure of U.S. leadership in protecting and strengthening the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The Republican Senate which rejected ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1999, and now the Bush administration, which has refused to support ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, bear a special responsibility for this failure. The failure of the Bush administration to support international non-proliferation initiatives or to support effective diplomacy to strengthen the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has put us all at risk.
The United States should not to respond to the reports of a North Korean
nuclear test by escalating the level of threats. North Korea should be
and will be condemned for breaking the nuclear testing moratorium. But North Korea does not pose an imminent nuclear threat to South Korea, Japan, the United States, or any other country. The U.S. should work with the international community, and particularly with all the countries of East Asia, to develop peaceful, diplomatic initiatives to overcome the consequences of the failure of coercive diplomacy. One key component of this new strategy should be direct, bilateral talks.
The U.S. government and some in Congress will point the finger at North Korea as the problem and call for national and international sanctions, naval blockades, or perhaps military threats. We do not know how North Korea might respond to a new diplomatic initiative, but we do know that war, threats of war, or escalating confrontation through naval blockades will virtually guarantee that North Korea will continue to pursue nuclear weapons.
The U.S. should also invest in efforts to mend the broken international system of non- proliferation, the purpose of which is to make all peoples secure from the threat of nuclear annihilation. Congress could begin by ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and recommitting the U.S. to continuing efforts to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. No country should be allowed to use North Korea's explosion of one nuclear device as an excuse to resume nuclear testing. It would be particularly absurd for the U.S., having itself conducted already more than 1,000 nuclear tests, to argue that it must now test a nuclear weapon to counter the North Korean test.
What the world needs now is a strong, decisive focus on the goal of nuclear non-proliferation. The first steps toward that goal will be mutual initiatives for threat reduction, confidence building, transparency through inspections, and a recommitment to ending non-nuclear testing.