John Delury warns that the U.S. is about to miss a major opportunity with North Korea:
The opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics this Friday promises to be historic. Athletes from North and South Korea will march together under a blue and white flag symbolising peace and unity on the peninsula. Instead of reading about missile tests and joint US-South Korean military exercises, we will soon be watching a joint hockey team. Leader Kim Jong Un, is sending his sister, a senior party official, along with North Korea’s head of state and éminence grise, Kim Yong-nam, opening up the chance for direct talks with the inner circle in Pyongyang.
Yet, rather than making the most of this detente, our fears and fatalism towards North Korea have got the better of us. This is a rare opportunity to stimulate real diplomatic progress towards de-escalation, common security, and peace. But if we miss this window, the problem gets much harder to solve, North Korea’s capabilities improve as America’s threats intensify, and the geopolitical and economic risks once again rise to an unsupportable level.
It is easy to dismiss diplomacy with North Korea, but it has only been through engagement that any progress has been made in changing its government’s behavior. Piling on more and more punitive sanctions hasn’t made North Korea more cooperative, and adding even more punishment won’t have a different outcome. While there is always a need for healthy skepticism about the intentions of a government like North Korea’s, that should not be allowed to blind us to the possibility of finding a mutually satisfactory compromise that lowers tensions, reduces North Korean provocations, and avoids unnecessary escalation. U.S. officials routinely claim to be open to talks, but in practice this administration does everything it can to ensure that talks can’t succeed even if they happen. We are living with the consequences of the Bush administration’s decision to blow up the Agreed Framework over a decade ago, and we will similarly rue the Trump administration’s current unwillingness to pursue engagement with North Korea.
Delury’s conclusion at the end of his op-ed is absolutely right:
The time has come to follow Seoul’s lead down the path of principled, constructive engagement with Pyongyang. Progress will be slow and tough. But the alternatives are unacceptable.