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North Korea and the Nuclear Deal

Jeffrey Lewis states [1] something obvious that many people in the U.S. don’t want to admit:

There are really two assessments in the Post’s report. One, dated July 28, is that the intelligence community — not just the Defense Intelligence Agency, contrary to what you may have heard — “assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles.” The other assessment, published earlier in July, stated that North Korea had 60 nuclear weapons — higher than the estimates usually given in the press. Put them together, though, and its pretty clear that the window for denuclearizing North Korea, by diplomacy or by force, has closed [bold mine-DL].

These judgments are front-page news, but only because we’ve been living in collective denial.

In response to the recent U.N. Security Council vote, North Korea’s government stated that it would not negotiate [2] over its nuclear or missile programs. The assumption that seems to be behind Trump administration policy is that they can be cajoled into doing this, and furthermore that they can be pressured into making concessions on these issues [3] before talks begin. The administration is laboring under the delusion that it is still possible to persuade North Korea to give up on things that its government considers essential to its security. If anything, the heightened tensions and increased pressure in recent months have just confirmed their leadership in the belief that they need their nuclear weapons and missiles more than ever. Needless to say, talking about raining down “fire and fury” on them isn’t going to make them more likely to compromise on this point.


One of the more common hawkish refrains about North Korea is that “diplomacy has been tried and it failed,” but this ignores that North Korea acquired nuclear weapons in response to some of the same pressure tactics [4] that hawks wanted to use in lieu of the nuclear deal with Iran. There was a diplomatic agreement in place that had succeeded in limiting North Korea’s nuclear program, but the Bush administration wasn’t satisfied with it [5]. They blew up the agreement [6], and North Korea withdrew from the NPT and tested its first nuclear weapon soon thereafter. North Korea is a cautionary tale about what happens when hard-liners in Washington prefer to scrap an imperfect but working nonproliferation agreement in favor of pursuing the fantasy of forcing the other side’s total capitulation. It is why we should appreciate the successful nuclear deal with Iran, and it is why much-derided diplomatic engagement with North Korea is the best way to reduce tensions and manage the new reality bequeathed to us by short-sighted hard-liners over a decade ago.

8 Comments (Open | Close)

8 Comments To "North Korea and the Nuclear Deal"

#1 Comment By mel profit On August 10, 2017 @ 10:29 am

What remains unclear is the functional effectiveness of the alleged miniaturized weapons, the sophistication and accuracy of the missile guidance systems, and the reentry survivability of warhead-tipped ICBMs . In short, Kim and Friends can launch ICBMs with the theoretical capability of reaching US targets, but, because testing has either been limited or non-existent, the actual arrival destinations of said firings are highly uncertain.

This could be vexing news for residents of Bismarck, North Dakota, who might be the recipients of nuclear weapons meant for Chicago or New York, and it is very cold comfort for Seoul and Tokyo, which for the North Koreans represent nuclear chip shots rather than 500-yard fairway drives into a hurricane.

For US policymakers, the most mischievous and perhaps least resistible implication is this: if North Korea is not now capable, with very high certainty, of striking a major US target but soon will be, perhaps now is the right time–indeed the last opportunity–to pre-emptively strike them. (The coldest of the logic being that it would also be the final time when the devastating consequences of such an attack would be limited to South Korea and Japan).

#2 Comment By Fran Macadam On August 10, 2017 @ 1:30 pm

Our Diktats don’t seem to be as well received these days; which leaves the option to pursue them by the very means they are supposed to prevent: nuclear war.

#3 Comment By Enoughalready On August 10, 2017 @ 2:59 pm

The problem, Mel, is that the whole point of South Korean and Japan being allies with us is so that their cities don’t end up in ruins. A smoldering Korean Peninsula that is once again one of the poorest countries on earth really doesn’t seem to be a positive outcome. At this point, we might as well add “potential destruction of Seattle” to the long list of anxieties of life we have to deal with.

And…as I type this, we have more stupid escalating statements.

#4 Comment By Jon K On August 10, 2017 @ 9:39 pm

Mel – You really think we have enough information plus the capacity for a pre-emptive strike to actually stop NK’s program? And assuming you think we do, that the utter destruction of SK and Japan is a price worth paying?

#5 Comment By WillW On August 11, 2017 @ 4:51 am

Yeah, that last sentence? Diplomatic engagement? When State is one guy and I guess probably still a janitor or two? Good luck with that.

#6 Comment By Dev Null On August 12, 2017 @ 12:47 pm

Could be wrong, and I see how Mel’s comment could be read as advocacy, but I took his comment as a statement of concern that the Administration might be looking at the situation as an opportunity to settle NORK’s hash whatever the cost to SKorea and Japan.

Leslie Graham and that ardent Christian Robert Jeffress have advocated attacking NORK precisely because they’ll die over there, not here. (… as I’m sure everyone knows, jes’ sayin’.)

#7 Comment By Dev Null On August 12, 2017 @ 12:52 pm

Jeez. s/Leslie/Lindsey

Senior moment.

#8 Comment By Dev Null On August 12, 2017 @ 1:00 pm

Incidentally, *this*:


That’s a photo of me at the top of Ricks’ article.