It would be more tempting to celebrate North Korea’s shutdown of the Yongbyon nuclear reactor if Kim Jong Il hadn’t done it before, in the mid-1990s — after a previous round of threats, presumed bomb production, and extortion of concessions, aid and fuel from the U.S., South Korea, Japan and Europe.
The Yongbyon reactor is just a part of North Korea’s nuclear program. The scale, scope and location of the rest is not fully known, and there is no sign that Pyongyang is about to fully come clean. This shutdown came months after it was promised, and only after North Korea had treated the world to the spectacle of the U.S. State Department, Treasury, and Federal Reserve laboring at the behest of Kim Jong Il to move some $25 million in allegedly crime-tainted funds (the allegations came after extensive investigations by our own Treasury) into the coffers of Kim’s regime.
The greatest damage in all this was the example our own government and our allies have allowed North Korea to set for rogue regimes the world over — that nuclear extortion works, that illicit nuclear bomb tests carry no serious penalty, and that our own glorious rhetoric about supporting freedom gets swept aside when our diplomats sit down at the bargaining table with representatives of the world’s worst thugs.
The headline we need to see is not that Kim Jong Il has shut down Yongbyon, but that North Korea has shut down Kim Jong Il.