Mike Pence describes the Trump administration’s North Korea policy:
But in an interview with me on Wednesday afternoon, he adopted a harder line: The Trump administration, he said, demands that North Korea abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs without any promise of direct negotiations with the United States.
This is a typical hard-liner position, and it has all of the flaws that go with it. Pence is saying that the U.S. expects North Korea to give up existing programs that North Korea’s leadership believes is necessary to protect their regime from being attacked, and they have to do this as a precondition before they can even start negotiations with Washington. There is not even a guarantee that there will be negotiations. North Korea is being told that they have to engage in significant disarmament on the off-chance that Washington might make a deal with them later.
That is not a policy so much as it is just a fantasy of total capitulation by the other side. Even if North Korea’s government didn’t think that having nuclear weapons was needed to stave off attack, no government is going to give up a costly program without some guarantees and incentives, and some governments would never give them up no matter how much they were offered. As usual, the hard-liners’ maximalist demands are sure to be rejected, and by making such demands our leaders confirm the North Korean government’s assumption that they should continue developing the programs that our government insists they dismantle.
The situation is complicated by the fact that the U.S. has attacked and toppled other regimes that had given up on their unconventional weapons programs. The North Korean government has seen the U.S. target other states that could not deter an attack and concluded that they weren’t going to suffer the same fate. Maybe fifteen years ago North Korea wouldn’t have been as insistent on having their own deterrent, but now they are and they aren’t going to be forced into giving it up. Pence can stare at North Korea as fiercely as he wants, but those realities aren’t going to change just because the Trump administration wants them to.