Hillary Clinton Warns North Korea Over “Provocative Actions”

Speaking in Japan, Secretary of State Clinton joined the small chorus of voices condemning North Korea for sinking a South Korean warship:

TOKYO — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton harshly condemned North Korea on Friday for a deadly torpedo attack on a South Korean Navy warship last March, and promised to marshal an international response in the coming week with Japan, China and other countries.

“I think it is important to send a clear message to North Korea that provocative actions have consequences,” she said after meeting here with the Japanese foreign minister, Katsuya Okada. “We cannot allow this attack on South Korea to go unanswered by the international community.”

Mrs. Clinton declined to lay out the potential options for a response, saying that would be premature. But she left little doubt that the United States would undertake an intensive diplomatic effort to craft a response to the sinking of the Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors and was one of the biggest military provocations on the Korean Peninsula since the Korean War.

Among the options being considered by South Korean and American officials is a United Nations Security Council resolution, and joint naval exercises with South Korea that could include anti-submarine warfare operations. South Korea may also cut off its remaining trade with the North.

“Let me be clear: this will not, and cannot be, business as usual,” Mrs. Clinton said, speaking in solemn tones. “There must be an international, not just a regional, but an international response.”

Which, presumably means the United Nations, assuming we can get China to go along.

Even if we can, though, what exactly is Security Council condemnation and, perhaps, additional economic sanctions going to accomplish ?

If this were any other nation, and any other part of the world, the response to a torpedo attack on a warship would be military retaliation of some kind. That’s not going to happen on the Korean Peninsula and, given both the irrationality of the Pongyang regime, and the danger of a wider war, it probably shouldn’t. However, we already know that words and sanctions don’t have much of an impact on Kim Jong Il so it’s unclear what good they’d do this time around.

FILED UNDER: Asia, Military Affairs, National Security, United Nations, World Politics, , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    It’s not in China’s interests to go along, so they won’t. What repercussions would China face if they failed to go along? None. What repercussions would they face if the Korean regime collapsed? Unknown but frightening. At the very least there’s the threat of a stream of refugees across their borders, unrest among the Korean population already there, and loss of face.

    The only thing worse for the Chinese leadership than the collapse of the North Korean regime would be re-unification. Under the circumstances the status quo looks pretty good to them.

  2. Rewarding military adventurism, i.e., not acting in the face of severe provocation for fear you might anger the provoker, is a flat out guarantee that you’re going to get more of it. Seriously, what part of this is hard to understand? If so much of the rest of the world dislikes us so much that they are willing to protect North Korea just to spite us, then isn’t it about time you accept the state of the world rather than deceiving yourself about these erstwhile allies and their intentions?

    Didn’t any of the smartest people in the world read Aesop’s Fables?

  3. Really, is there anything more meaningless, sad and pathetic than Secretary of State Clinton warning North Korea?

  4. Charles,

    But for the fact that there are something close to 10,000 long range artillery pieces on the NoKo side of the DMZ capable of hitting downtown Seoul within minutes, you might have a point.

  5. Dave,

    Largely agreed, although I think that China, along with the rest of the world, is probably making a huge mistake in not planning for the aftermath of a sudden collapse of the North Korean regime.

  6. Bill H says:

    To charles austin, yes, there is; when she was warning China. “China will find itself isolated in the world community…” if it does not do whatever it was that she was demanding of it at the moment. Along with wanting the British to “sit down at the table” and negotiate over the Falklands, she is becoming an embarrassment.

    Just as a point of clarification, we liberals condemn Israel for blockading Gaza and starving noncombatants, with many calling that a “war crime,” and yet this nation has been doing that to Cuba and North Korea for many years. The people of NK are starving to death, in part because we are blocking their ability to import food. Now we are talking about running a sea blockade, which is clearly defined as an act of war. Are we trying to starve these nations into democracy?

  7. Collect all the decent bottles of Brandy–say anything X.O. or finer–and but them in a warehouse. In front of a camera, have Clinton promising to destroy all the world’s remaining brandy unless NK comes to the negotiating table.

    Sound silly? I think it has a more decent shot of working than anything we can do diplomatically. Kim Jong Il is a megalomaniac who doesn’t care about his people or his country–only himself. So the only way to be able to punish him is attacking what he enjoys–sanctions won’t do anything. Since he spends $700,000 or so a year on brandy, this just might work.

  8. Dave Schuler says:

    Just as a point of clarification, we liberals condemn Israel for blockading Gaza and starving noncombatants, with many calling that a “war crime,” and yet this nation has been doing that to Cuba and North Korea for many years.

    Oh, forsooth. Picking and choosing your customers is a war crime? Was the disinvestment movement and other economic moves against South Africa to end its apartheid a war crime, too?

    Obviously, not. There is a crime against humanity in the case of North Korea but it is North Korea’s incompetent and corrupt regime that is perpetrating it.

  9. Neil,

    Given Kim’s proclivities the most effective measure may be a blockade of all shipments of Brandy, and porn.

  10. Ah yes! I forgot about the porn aspect. Without a double porn/brandy blockade, the measure fails.

    What’s great about both of these proposals is that the most prolific producers of both products are our allies. Brandy: America, Spain, France, Germany, Argentina, Chile. I don’t see any of these countries balking at this idea. Porn: America, Japan, Germany. Again, very agreeable partners.

  11. Franklin says:

    I’m re-posting what I wrote in the last Korea thread from a few days ago:

    Okay. I guess I’m not sure in what way it would collapse without Kim Jong-Il (or sons) lashing out. From what I’ve read, almost everybody there is brainwashed to support their dear leader no matter what, so it doesn’t seem like an internal coup would be very successful, and would be blamed on South Korea regardless.

    I basically agree with Schuler’s commentary, but I’m curious how long the status quo can go on. Something has to happen at some point; people get restless when they’re starving to death, and leaders don’t have any power if all their people are dead. Does China really think this can go on indefinitely?

  12. Franklin,

    At some point, one wonders if the DPRK military wouldn’t step in and do something. Yes, they are all Kim loyalists, but can you really believe that a North Korean General who’s spent his entire career defending the regime is going to be all that thrilled about the idea of power being handed over to a 30-something son with nothing to offer other than a last name ?

    There was speculation of conflict within the military during the transition from Kim Il Sung to Kim Jong Il. Given how disastrous the years under Kim the younger have been, one could only imagine that would happen again.

    I say all this as an amateur observer. But I guess when it comes to NoKo, we’re all just observers.

  13. Franklin says:

    Thanks for your thoughts. For whatever reason this subject has really piqued my interest lately.

  14. Doug, bullies are bullies whether in the schoolyard or on the 48th parallel. Their behavior is consistent and predictable.

    May I assume that you hold out hope that those 10,000 atrillery pieces will never be used so long as “we” continue feed the South Koreans to them in small bunches?

  15. steve says:

    “so long as “we” continue feed the South Koreans to them in small bunches?”

    Who is this “we”? The decision to confront the North Koreans should belong to the South Koreans as they will bear the brunt of the risk. We need to get out of there and let the South Koreans figure this out for themselves.


  16. “we” is everyone arrayed against North Korea, starting with South Korea and ending with the United States, and only a few others in between. And, of course it isn’t just South Koreans that have been fed to them, but Japanese and Americans as well.

    I can understand the great reluctance of South Korea (and everyone else) to want to deal with North Korea. It would result in a terrible devestation of their country, as well as North Korea, and who knows where it would all end. But is this another triumph of hope over experience? Do you think North Korea will willingly collapse internally and not become more adventurous and murderous to relive the pressure building up within their borders? At what point does South Korea’s seed corn become too enticing not to try and eat it too rather than starve? Many are starving now, but once the army begins to starve, they will not be so easily suppressed.

  17. Michael Reynolds says:

    The attack was against the SK navy. It’s their decision whether or not to retaliate militarily.

    This was very possibly a screw-up, rather than a deliberate sinking on orders from on high. But maybe not, maybe it was ordered — NK has certainly done this kind of thing before.

    The Chinese aren’t fools, and there are some advantages to be gained from their point of view. If NK simply collapses the Chinese risk a situation with SK and the US that could get unpredictable. They don’t like unpredictable.

    So what they ought to be doing is talking to Seoul and Washington about the possibility of a demilitarized Korea in the event of collapse and unification. A unified but demilitarized Korea on their border is a net plus. New markets. new opportunities, reduced threat and reduced instability and unpredictability.

    I hope that kind of discussion is taking place. If China could be reassured about the end state, it might well be ready to help push NK off the cliff. Better now than later when NK may have more functional nukes. But not if a collapse means SK soldiers at the Chinese border.