It's Time to Strangle North Korea

On Tuesday, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the abhorrent state run by Chairman Kim Jong Il, said it would restart its plutonium facilities and "never participate" in the six-party disarmament talks. Furthermore, it repudiated all agreements to disarm. The blast from Pyongyang was in reaction to Monday's statement of the president of the Security Council condemning the April 5 launch of a North Korean missile.

Pyongyang's announcement will undoubtedly shake State Department officials and Obama staffers, but Americans made of sterner stuff will welcome the news. As an initial matter, North Korea's only plutonium reactor, located in Yongbyon, was supplied by the Soviets in the middle of the 1960s. It is well past its useful life. Let the North Koreans restart it if they dare. There is, after all, nothing so delegitimizing as a self-inflicted mushroom cloud, as Chernobyl taught us more than two decades ago. We were generous -- perhaps foolish -- to have paid Mr. Kim to close Yongbyon down in the first place. And do you think the nearby Chinese are going to allow Kim to create radioactive clouds that will drift toward Beijing?

Of course, Pyongyang can build new reactors as it announced some time ago. Yet Kim has not made much progress, largely because he does not have the resources to continue their construction. North Korea, now in the fourth year of a downturn, has a gross domestic product so small -- about $20 billion -- that some buildings in Manhattan boast a larger economy. So let's see if the Kimster can begin building sophisticated reactors.

And what about Pyongyang's threat to permanently shun Beijing's six-party talks? That promise sounds hollow. But let's assume, for the moment, that the North Koreans mean what they say. I say the end of the negotiations is a good thing. The discussions, which began in August 2003, made relatively quick progress at first. In September 2005, the six nations -- China, North Korea, Russia, Japan, South Korea, and the United States -- agreed to a statement of principles. Pyongyang, for its part, committed itself to giving up "all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs" and pledged "at an early date" to rejoin the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and submit to international inspections.

The negotiations predictably broke down over verification of Pyongyang's promises. To get things back on track, the Bush administration, in one of the most humiliating incidents in the annals of American diplomacy, violated American law in 2007 by transferring back to the North Koreans $25 million in dirty money that had been previously frozen in a Macau bank. By now, it is clear that Kim, in the absence of the threat of force or extreme pressure, will never agree to strict inspections of his nuclear facilities.