Home/Daniel Larison/North Korean Disarmament Is Still a Dangerous Fantasy

North Korean Disarmament Is Still a Dangerous Fantasy

The president is still clinging to the fantasy that Kim Jong-un agreed to disarm at the Singapore summit, and he is threatening North Korea if Kim “fails” to honor the agreement he never made:

Nothing is less likely to convince Kim and the North Korean government to make concessions than threatening them with the loss of “everything” (i.e., regime change). Much depends on what Trump chooses to define as “hostile” behavior from North Korea. If he thinks that North Korea made a meaningful commitment to disarm and then concludes that they are reneging on it, that spells serious trouble for the new year. Trump is absurdly wrong to say that the Singapore summit produced a “strong denuclearization agreement.” It produced no agreement at all, and even the vague statement that did come out of the summit doesn’t suggest that North Korea is willing to disarm. The U.S. and North Korea are on the cusp of a completely avoidable crisis, and Trump will bear a significant portion of the blame for it.

The president also overrates the importance of his relationship with Kim. Kim has little or nothing to show for negotiating with Trump and probably sees no reason to do Trump any favors in an election year. The reality is that North Korea made no such commitment to disarm, and their government’s patience has all but run out. The end-of-year deadline that they have talked about for months approaches, and the U.S. negotiating position remains as hopelessly unrealistic as ever. The U.S. and North Korea are already well on their way to resuming the tit-for-tat insults and provocations that we saw in 2017.

The open secret of Trump’s failed North Korea policy is that much of “the world” hasn’t been on board with “maximum pressure” for more than a year. The Trump administration has wrongly assumed that pressure tactics brought North Korea to the table, and they wrongly assume that pressure tactics will compel North Korea to make significant concessions. North Korea was willing to engage for a time when they thought that some sanctions relief might be offered, and now that sanctions relief obviously won’t be forthcoming they aren’t going to bother with further talks. There was an opening here for a modest arms control agreement that would reduce or at least cap North Korea’s arsenal, but because of their foolish maximalist goals the Trump administration squandered that opportunity.

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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