08/01/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

North Korea: A Test for Progressives

North Korean ships are carrying missiles and materials from which chemical and nuclear weapons can be made -- to other tyrannies, such as the oppressive regimes in Myanmar and in Yemen. The United States leads a group of more than ninety nations that are committed to stopping such traffic, but North Korea has stated that such interventions would lead to war. One hears extremely little from progressives about what the United States should do next.

North Korea poses a special test for progressives because unlike the invasion of Iraq -- and before that, the armed interventions in several other nations including Panama, Grenada, and Haiti -- this time the United State is meeting the criteria previously posed by progressives.

The action is undertaken with the full blessing of the United Nations, which on June 12 passed a Security Council resolution that calls for U.N. member states to inspect all ships entering or leaving North Korea if there is a reasonable suspicion that the cargo contains banned nuclear materials or missile technology.

The action is multilateral rather than unilateral, in the sense that far from acting on its own, the U.S. has consulted many other nations, and is working together with them to try to stop North Korean dissemination of WMD.

Finally, at least so far, the use of force is excluded. There will be no forceful inspection of North Korean ships. First, the United States and other nations merely are asking North Korea to give permission to have its ships inspected while on the high seas. If North Korea refuses, the nation in which the ship docks to refuel will be asked to inspect the cargo. This is very much in line with international law and it does not involve use of force.

Yet, we hear next to no sounds of approval from the progressive camp; one is hard put to find editorials from the left stating that this time we've got it right. Are progressives holding that all problems can be treated with merely goodwill, foreign aid, and talk? Or are they willing to fess up and acknowledge that when all other means have been exhausted, and there is clear and present danger--the time to act is now, and to act may entail putting at least one foot down?

**I will respond to the comments of those persons who are willing to identify themselves, because I hold this essential for a civilized dialogue.

For more discussion see Amitai Etzioni's article "Tomorrow's Institution Today: The Promise of the Proliferation Security Initiative" in the May/June 2009 Foreign Affairs, here. Etzioni is a professor of international affairs at The George Washington University and the author of Security First (Yale, 2007). He can be contacted at