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Diplomacy with North Korea Needs Realistic Goals

Moon Jae-in, president of South Korea. (Sagase48 / Shutterstock.com)

The Wall Street Journal editors have figured out that South Korea’s President Moon isn’t a maximalist hawk:

Mr. Moon claims to be the mediator between the White House and Pyongyang, but it isn’t clear he’s representing the U.S. position. Instead he is pressing the U.S. to give benefits to North Korea in return for mere steps toward denuclearization. He has adopted the North’s position that the negotiations should agree to “phased and synchronous measures,” meaning the North gets benefits in exchange for incremental steps such as allowing inspectors to visit nuclear sites.

If Mr. Trump falls into this trap, the North will never give up its nuclear arms.

North Korea isn’t going to give up its nuclear weapons in any case, so these objections to Moon’s mediation make no sense. Were it not for President Moon, there would be no diplomatic process with Pyongyang worth mentioning. If it weren’t for his persistence, Trump would have undermined that process with his capricious decisions to agree to a summit without preparing for one and then cancelling it as it drew closer. If Moon has accepted that any agreement between the U.S. and North Korea has to involve “phrased and synchronous measures,” that is proof that he is serious about finding a diplomatic solution while maximalist hawks in the Trump administration are not. Insisting that North Korea must agree to a “quick” process that results in its disarmament won’t yield any results at all, but instead of acknowledging this the WSJ editors prefer to trash the allied leader who has far more at stake in the process than we do.

The editorial continues:

For the U.S. and Japan, however, Kim’s nuclear-tipped missiles are an existential threat.

This isn’t true, and it shows how threat inflation rots the brains of those that engage in it. Whatever threat North Korea’s nuclear arsenal poses to the U.S. or Japan, it isn’t “existential,” especially because the U.S. has a far larger nuclear arsenal and a commitment to defend Japan against attack. North Korea has these weapons because they believe they need them to deter an attack on their country, so they aren’t going to agree to disarmament, and it doesn’t follow that they intend to use these weapons except in their own defense. Our government’s goal should be to get them to agree to a ban on nuclear weapons testing and preferably a limit on the number of nuclear weapons they can deploy, and we should stop wasting time chasing after the fantasy of “complete” denuclearization that will never happen.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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