The Trump administration remains as far from its goal of “final, fully verified denuclearization” in North Korea as ever:
But after five months of canceled meetings and muted statements of dissatisfaction by both countries, experts say there is no sign of progress toward the Singapore goal of so-called “denuclearization” of the North.
“I think right now, we are absolutely stuck,” says Sue Mi Terry, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The administration’s failure with North Korea is not a reason to give up on engagement and negotiations with Pyongyang, but to recognize that fixating on North Korea’s disarmament has always been a dead end and the wrong priority for our diplomatic efforts. There is a common misconception that skeptics of Trump’s disarmament agenda don’t want diplomacy with North Korea to succeed. On the contrary, the only way that there will be successful diplomacy with North Korea and the establishment of an enduring peace regime between North and South Korea is if the U.S. stops making disarmament the most important and indeed the only issue on the agenda. The problem isn’t just that the administration wants disarmament first before considering sanctions relief and other concessions, but that it thinks complete disarmament of the DPRK is still even possible. The U.S. is going to have to adjust to the reality that North Korea isn’t disarming, but that there can still be improved relations leading to a formal peace treaty and the de-escalation of tensions on the peninsula without that disarmament.
For more than a year, I have been saying that insisting on “complete” or “final” denuclearization of North Korea was a hopeless policy. Six months after the photo op summit in Singapore, it should be even clearer that it is a dead end. North Korea is now a nuclear-weapons state, and that isn’t going to be undone by anything that U.S. diplomats attempt in the coming months and years. The sooner the administration and everyone else in Washington faces up to this reality, the more likely it is that there will finally be progress in talks with North Korea.