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Bolton’s Impossible Demands for North Korea

Bolton has taken full advantage of the breakdown in talks to make sure that diplomacy with North Korea won't produce anything at all.

John Bolton repeated the Trump administration’s absurd maximalist demands for North Korea earlier today on ABC’s This Week:

RADDATZ: OK, let’s back track a bit. At the Singapore summit, North Korea committed only to, quote, “work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”. How do you define that, how do they define that?

BOLTON: Well, again, they have committed to denuclearization in a variety of forms several times in writing, solemn international agreements that they have happily violated. We define denuclearization as meaning the elimination of their nuclear weapons program, their uranium enrichment capability, their plutonium reprocessing capability.

From the beginning we’ve also included chemical and biological weapons in the elimination of their weapons of mass destruction, this is important to us because of our deployed forces in South Korea.

It’s important to South Korea and Japan. And of course we want their ballistic missile program ended as well. That is –

RADDATZ: But they didn’t sign onto that.

Bolton went on to say that North Korea could expect no sanctions relief until they had given up all of these things. Once again, North Korea is expected to give up everything the U.S. wants first before it can expect to see anything in return. These aren’t conditions that any government could accept, and Bolton has known this all along. These are conditions that are made to be rejected in order to provide a pretext for more punitive and aggressive measures. They are the same unreasonable demands for unilateral and complete surrender that the administration has made for the last 18 months, and with the inclusion of North Korea’s biological and chemical weapons programs they amount to Bolton’s so-called “Libya model” in all but name. The failure at Hanoi should have shown the administration that insisting on North Korea’s total disarmament was a dead end, but instead Bolton has taken full advantage of the breakdown in talks to make sure that diplomacy with North Korea won’t produce anything at all.

The Trump administration’s North Korea policy has been fatally flawed from the beginning because of the insistence on North Korean disarmament and its related refusal to offer North Korea anything substantial until they gave up everything. I have said as much on many occasions going back to 2017. That is not because I wanted diplomatic engagement to fall apart, but because reducing our demands was the only way for engagement to produce any meaningful agreement. There was an opportunity to make some limited progress on making the freezes on testing permanent and possibly negotiating a proper arms control agreement, but that opportunity has been squandered by an administration that is too hard-line and too incompetent to get any of this right. In Bolton’s case, there was never any desire to get it right, because he is ideologically committed to preventing the successful negotiation of any arms control agreement. He has made a career of destroying the architecture of arms control, and this time he has sought to kill off a new agreement before it could be reached.

Chasing after the fantasy of disarmament can only lead to disappointment and a return to increased tensions. That is why Bolton has been happy to encourage the president to keep chasing after it, and that is why all sane arms control experts and other observers have been warning that it could lead to disaster. The longer Bolton remains in the administration, the more likely it is that disaster will strike.



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