North Korea's renewed bid for nuclear weapons poses an urgent, serious foreign policy challenge to the United States. The current situation -- though it bears a resemblance to the events of 1993-1994 -- is far more dangerous and difficult. North Korea has developed longer-range ballistic missiles; South Korea's growing nationalism has put its U.S. relations on shakier ground; and the United States is distracted by the wars on terrorism and for regime change in Iraq.
Despite these challenges, good prospects still exist for a diplomatic resolution to the North Korea problem. North Korea's dire economic circumstances have made it more vulnerable to outside pressure at a time when its neighbor nations and the United States are increasingly concerned about its nuclear ambition. Military means would not only exact huge human casualties but also deepen U.S. estrangement from Seoul and diminish prospects for developing a joint strategy with other Asian powers.
Given the urgency and complexity of the current situation, appointment of a special coordinator for North Korean policy could help the administration to formulate a unified policy, sell it to Congress, coordinate it with allies, and present it to Pyongyang. In any event, a key requirement will be real "give and take" negotiations with South Korea to arrive at a coordinated strategy.
In the end, Pyongyang must choose: economic assistance and security assurance on the condition that all nuclear activities be abandoned, or dire consequences if nuclear programs continue. Any new agreement, however, must avoid the deficiencies of the 1994 Agreed Framework. It must be more verifiable, less readily reversible, more comprehensive, more politically defensible, and more enforceable through the involvement of North Korea's neighbors.