Diplomatic and economic isolation are nothing new to North Korea. For most of its 54 years of existence, it has clung to the edge of the world community, unsure whether to participate. For this reason alone, the United States should take a harder look at its latest strategy towards the North, termed by one American official as 'tailored containment'. Through an orchestrated campaign of sanctions and diplomatic snubbing, US President George W. Bush's administration believes Pyongyang can be convinced to scrap its nuclear programme. Mr Bush and his advisers would do well to realise that Koreans have endured famines for thousands of years by eating grass and bark. Left with no other option for survival and without the world community to help, they could well do so again. Sanctions have rarely worked as a tool of force. Cuba, Myanmar, Iraq and Zimbabwe have survived without the need for US investment and as a result, their leaders have grown arguably stronger and more despotic. Only in South Africa could it be said the measure worked, but even then it took decades of isolation before apartheid caved in. Winning support for sanctions from North Korea's allies - China, Russia, Vietnam and Iran among them - would not be easy. Even South Koreans, who for the past four years have been fostering economic ties, would be reluctant given the positive progress that has been made. North Korea has blatantly disregarded international agreements on weapons proliferation by ordering out international monitors and threatening to restart its nuclear reactor and arms programme. Such moves are deplorable. At the same time, though, the US offers no solution by refusing to negotiate and by suggesting a sanctions regime. Rather than stop nuclear weapons and missile proliferation, it will only spur North Korea to greater resolve. The US holds the key to peace on the Korean peninsula and stability in that region. North Korea, eyeing 37,000 American troops south of its border, has said so repeatedly. Washington would do well to reassess its stand and formulate a policy of engagement towards Pyongyang, instead of one of isolation.