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Demanding Denuclearization Is a Dead End

Pence now claims [1] that the Trump administration is willing to talk to North Korea:

“The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization,” Pence said. “So the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.”

It’s not clear what the point of “talking” would be when the administration is still insisting on a demand–denuclearization–that the other side will never accept. This gets to the heart of the problem with U.S. policy. North Korea will never commit to a path towards denuclearization because it considers its nuclear arsenal to be essential to the regime’s survival, and our government seems determined not to face up the implications of this.

Peter Van Buren explained very well why denuclearization is a non-starter in his article [2] on the main page last week:

The path to some form of peaceful co-existence on the Korean Peninsula lies in understanding survival, and that means North Korea can never denuclearize, a precondition the United States has insisted on before negotiations can move forward. If denuclearization was ever possible, perhaps through some form of security guarantee, the chances were reduced in March 2003 when Saddam Hussein, who had lost his weapons of mass destruction, found his country invaded by the United States. And the possibility evaporated completely when, after Moammar Gaddafi agreed to eliminate Libya’s nuclear weapons program, he was driven out of power by American bombs in 2011.

If there is any chance for talks with North Korea to yield something of value, the U.S. and its allies have to lower their sights and modify their demands accordingly. The Trump administration may be paying lip service to the idea of talking to North Korea, but until they stop chasing after the mirage of denuclearization there won’t be meaningful diplomatic progress between Washington and Pyongyang.