The Obameter

Increase penalties against North Korea if it continues developing nuclear weapons

"President Obama will also continue to confront North Korea, another regime that ignores its international obligations by developing nuclear weapons and missile technology, with a stark choice: take verifiable steps toward denuclearization or face increasing isolation and costs from the United States and the international community."


Obama administration follows campaign script on North Korea

Democrats promised that a re-elected President Barack Obama would "confront” the socialist dictatorship of North Korea with a "stark choice” over its nuclear ambitions.

North Korea's young leader, Kim Jong Un, would need to take steps away from nuclear arms, or face "increasing isolation and costs.”

The Obama administration has followed that script — though so far, not to great effect.

Instead, under the junior Kim, the nation has launched a ballistic missile, set off nuclear blasts and over the weekend declared a state of war with South Korea.

(That's set off earnest discussion about how seriously to take threats from a regime that's regularly used them to extract resources from the international community.)

One of those nuclear tests was the night before Obama's State of the Union address in February 2013.

In response, he declared: "The regime in North Korea must know they will only achieve security and prosperity by meeting their international obligations.  Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only further isolate them, as we stand by our allies, strengthen our own missile defense and lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats.”

Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council has tightened sanctions, while an expert in U.S.-Korea policy with Council on Foreign Relations noted "a sustained high-level U.S. response.”

The effort has been "in overdrive in recent weeks,” wrote Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy.

For example, he wrote, national security adviser Tom Donilon "insisted that North Korea ‘change course" and engage in ‘authentic negotiations" while delivering a stark warning that North Korea would be held responsible for nuclear terrorism resulting from its proliferation.”

Still, there's much more that the United States and its allies could do to pressure the North Korean regime, said Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center and a Pentagon expert in nuclear proliferation under the first Bush administration.

If they want to isolate the country's leadership, they shouldn't seek to negotiate, he said. The "lunatic regime” itself is the problem.

The U.S. and its allies should instead work harder to cut off illegal activity — such as the drug trade and counterfeiting — that North Korea uses to get its hands on hard currency, Sokolski said.

But new sanctions "at least make them tougher than their predecessors,” he said.

(The George W. Bush administration focused on enticing North Koreans back to six-party talks, which ultimately broke down.)

The question now, another expert in nuclear nonproliferation told PolitiFact, is whether the administration's policy gets "overtaken by events.”

"At some point, North Korea's nuclear development will advance to the point where denuclearization is no longer a realistic option,” said James Acton, a senior associate in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment. "Indeed, I would argue it's already there.”

Michael Auslin, an expert in Asian security for the conservative American Enterprise Institute, says the Obama team should abandon attempts to negotiate, declare North Korea a nuclear power and move to contain it.

The administration instead insists the "path to peace is clear.”

Deputy White House press secretary Josh Earnest laid out the choices for reporters aboard Air Force One on March 29.

"The bellicose rhetoric emanating from North Korea only deepens that nation's isolation,” he said. North Koreans "should abandon their nuclear program.”

"And upon doing so, they will be welcomed back into the international community,” he said.

Democrats promised during Obama's re-election campaign that the president would present North Korea with a "stark choice”: to denuclearize or face "increasing isolation and costs.”  North Korea hasn't taken steps to denuclearize — and it has faced ever tighter U.S. pressure and international sanctions. For now, we rate this promise In the Works.


Interview with Henry Sokolski, executive director, Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, April 1, 2013

Email interview with James Acton, senior associate in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment, April 1, 2013

Email interview with Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow, Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, director of research, Brookings Institution's foreign policy program, March 29, 2013

UN News Centre, "DPR of Korea," accessed April 1, 2013

UN News Centre, "Security Council tightens sanctions on DPR Korea in wake of latest nuclear blast," March 7, 2013

UN News Centre, "Security Council and UN officials condemn DPR Korea's nuclear test," Feb. 12, 2013

UN News Centre, "Security Council sharpens sanctions on DPR Korea in wake of ballistic missile launch," Jan. 23, 2013

White House, "Remarks by the President in the State of the Union Address," Feb. 12, 2013

White House, "Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest Aboard Air Force One en route Miami, FL, 3/29/2013," March 29, 2013

Reuters, "South Korea Vows Fast Response to North as U.S. Deploys Stealth Jets," April 1, 2013

Washington Post's WorldViews blog, "Here's North Korea's official declaration of ‘war,'" March 30. 2013

New York Times, "North Korea Orders Missile Readiness, State Media Reports," March 29, 2013

Council on Foreign Relations' Asia Unbound blog, "South Korea's Nuclear Debate and the Credibility of U.S. Extended Deterrence," March 27, 2013

CNN, "Why North Korea regime is scary," March 29, 2013

Council on Foreign Relations' Asia Unbound blog, "UN Sanctions and North Korea," March 8, 2013

Brookings Institution's Up Front blog, "Examining North Korea's Recent Heated Rhetoric," March 29, 2013

American Enterprise Institute blog, "John Kerry's first test," Feb. 12, 2013

Wall Street Journal Asia, "Pyongyang's reality check," Feb. 7, 2013

The Atlantic, "North Korea's Nuclear Test: Taunting Obama on the Eve of His SOTU Speech," February 2013