Mike Pompeo recently repeated the administration’s unrealistic goals for North Korea diplomacy:
But he added it is time to solve the nuclear problem “once and for all.”
“We’re committed to the permanent, verifiable, irreversible dismantling of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction program and to do so without delay,” he said.
North Korea isn’t going to agree to this, and by trying to “solve” the problem “once and for all” it is likely that the administration is throwing away an opportunity to make substantial, limited progress in the talks with North Korea. It is possible North Korea could be persuaded to accept limitations on the size of its arsenal and to make its temporary moratorium on weapons and missile testing permanent. That would be a genuine and worthwhile improvement over the status quo, and it wouldn’t have to come at the expense of South Korea’s policy of engagement. That would require setting aside maximalist demands to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear weapons and other unconventional weapons programs. In short, it would require the Trump administration to be open to making a compromise that falls well short of its stated goal. There is no sign that the administration is willing to do that yet, and that suggests that they may not even realize the pitfalls that lie ahead.
James Acton spells out why insisting on this goal is potentially so dangerous:
If the United States sticks to this goal, then, sooner or later, diplomacy will likely collapse. When it becomes clear that North Korea is not going to disarm, Washington will probably exert significant pressure on Seoul to disengage from diplomacy. Given that the United States guarantees South Korea’s security, such pressure will be difficult to resist. Moreover, by refusing to lift U.S. sanctions on North Korea and by vetoing any attempt to lift U.N. sanctions, the United States can effectively limit the economic benefits that North Korea hopes to gain through diplomacy, further undermining the sustainability of the process.
The failure of diplomacy would make military action by the United States more likely.
If the administration persists in demanding something that North Korea won’t concede, they are setting themselves up for failure and creating the conditions for a new crisis.