The secretary of Defense under President Clinton cautioned that sanctions against North Korea need to be enforced in order to quell the communist regime's "Orwellian language" and said China must be a partner in bringing the regime into line.
William Cohen also recommended putting more U.S. troops in the region and "putting some F-22s over in Okinawa just on a contingent basis for some time to come."
"They've murdered now some 50 plus soldiers and some innocent civilians without any penalty for that," William Cohen said of Pyongyang Friday on MSNBC. "And now they're saying it's really come about as a result of South Korean provocation. So I think we have to really reduce what credibility they have, it is very little, in terms of what they say."
Cohen said Kim Jong-Il's regime had been pursuing a policy of guns and butter: "They make the guns and provide the guns, we and other nations have been supplying the butter."
North Korea raised the prospect of war with the South during the Clinton administration, and using former President Carter as diplomat the countries reached 1994's Agree Framework under which the U.S. would help North Korea with nuclear energy if the country stopped its nuclear weapons program. North Korea tested its first nuclear weapon in 2006.
The former Defense secretary said that China is "the only country I think that can really exercise the kind of influence that needs to be exercised here to call them back from the brink that they're creating."
China's foreign ministry said Friday that its minister had spoken by phone with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, plus diplomats in South and North Korea, about the escalating crisis.
But China also voiced opposition to U.S.-South Korea military exercises, which were planned before Tuesday's artillery attack on a South Korean island that left four dead.
"We hold a consistent and clear-cut stance on the issue. We oppose any party to take any military acts in our exclusive economic zone without permission," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement Friday.
Cohen said he expected Beijing to say it has limited sway over North Korea, but "if they don't do something we're going to see a continuation of this crisis policy."
"They have the power to go to the North Korean regime and say, start acting properly or else we're going to start reducing our assistance," he said.
Cohen cautioned against the West anticipating a new dawn in relations with the rise of Kim's third son, Kim Jong-Un, who reportedly was chosen for succession because he's most like his father.
"It's rather ironic I think or at least unusual to have a 25-year-old four-star general," he said, quipping that the son must be a "very highly intelligent individual who can climb that rank so quickly."