Home/Daniel Larison/North Korea’s Testing Moratorium Is Finished

North Korea’s Testing Moratorium Is Finished

North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un during the Summit Russia - North Korea in Vladivostok, Russia, April,25,2019. (Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

The failure of Trump’s pseudo-engagement with North Korea is now complete:

North Korea declared Tuesday on the global stage that it will no longer adhere to its moratorium on nuclear and missile tests, citing “brutal and inhumane” sanctions led by the United States on its regime.

“We found no reason to be unilaterally bound any longer by the commitment that the other party fails to honour,” Ju Yong-chol, a counsellor at North Korea’s mission to the United Nations in Geneva, reportedly said during the U.N.-backed Conference on Disarmament.

The Trump administration’s unwillingness to offer North Korea meaningful sanctions relief over the last year and a half made it very likely that North Korea would resume the testing that they voluntarily halted in 2018. The North Korean government has been as clear as it could be for months that the U.S. had to change its approach by the end of 2019 in order to continue negotiations. The administration blew off this warning, and now they will have to live with their consequences of their neglect.

Trump’s mishandling of North Korea has brought us to this point. There was a small window of opportunity to lock in North Korea’s testing moratorium as part of an arms control agreement, and that window now appears to be closed. If the administration had pursued genuine engagement with a realistic set of demands, U.S.-North Korean talks might have produced a modest but worthwhile agreement. Unfortunately, the president isn’t interested in real diplomacy, and as usual he preferred stagecraft to statecraft. Between the president’s vanity and his advisers’ fanaticism, this administration was never going to make any progress with North Korea.

There is a crisis coming with North Korea, because as soon as North Korea resumes testing Trump will falsely accuse them of “violating” a non-existent agreement and tensions will spike again. This could have been avoided if the Trump administration had been willing to settle for something much less than North Korea’s capitulation and disarmament, but thanks to Bolton and Pompeo the president squandered that chance at Hanoi. Trump’s phony diplomacy was never going to succeed because he expected North Korea to give up everything in exchange for nothing, and he has dangerously personalized the issue to such a degree that he is likely to take the end of the testing moratorium as a slight.

Trump’s approach to North Korea was flawed from the start, because he mistakenly believed that sanctions pressure was responsible for bringing North Korea to the table. The president and his advisers could not admit even to themselves that it was North Korea’s successful nuclear and missile tests that had brought the U.S. to the table. That mistake then encouraged the administration to refuse any sanctions relief even in exchange for limited North Korean concessions, and that gave the North Koreans no incentive to continue with the talks. Trump imagined that he was compelling Kim to surrender when every temporary gain was something that Kim did for his own reasons. Now the temporary gain of the testing moratorium is about to vanish, and the Trump administration is still busy lying to everyone that Kim agreed to denuclearization at Singapore. A policy so divorced from reality could never achieve anything. Now we see once again what happens when hard-liners’ maximalist demands are allowed to define negotiations.

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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