Home/Daniel Larison/Insisting on North Korea’s Denuclearization Is a Dead End

Insisting on North Korea’s Denuclearization Is a Dead End

Trump administration officials keep painting themselves into a corner on North Korea and its nuclear arsenal:

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he didn’t see a scenario in which the U.S. would accept North Korea as a nuclear power, even after a year of dramatic advances for North Korea’s weapons program.

Mr. Mattis, speaking at a press briefing Saturday in Seoul with his South Korean counterpart at the end of a three-country swing through Asia, reiterated the longtime U.S. goal of denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula.

“I cannot imagine a condition under which the U.S. would accept North Korea as a nuclear power,” Mr. Mattis said.

The administration seems to have finally settled on a consistent position on North Korea, but it is the most irresponsible position they could possibly take under the circumstances. Denuclearization of North Korea is not a realistic or achievable goal. Short of a major war that would likely claim millions of lives, it is impossible. Secretary Mattis ought to understand that better than most of the other people in the administration. The cost of denuclearization is far too high, and the price that South Korea, Japan, the U.S., and the surrounding region would pay is absolutely unacceptable. The insistence that North Korea must give up something that they consider essential to their regime’s survival is an obvious non-starter.

Nothing is gained by having one administration official after another declaring that the U.S. won’t accept the reality that North Korea is already a nuclear-weapons state. It closes off any possibility of diplomacy as a means of reducing tensions, and it imposes a maximalist demand on North Korea that will never be accepted. Indeed, accepting the reality of North Korea as a nuclear power is the only rational way to stabilize the situation and avoid disastrous miscalculation by one side or the other. Pretending that there is still a way to compel North Korea to give up the one thing that it absolutely won’t concede just sets the U.S. up for dangerous confrontation that could easily spin out of control.

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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