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Pence’s Misguided Asia Trip

Mike Pence reconfirms that the Trump administration’s North Korea policy is hopelessly out of touch with reality:

Pence said his message, if he met any officials from the North, would be the same as it has been in public. “And that is that North Korea must once and for all abandon its nuclear weapons program and ballistic missile ambitions,” he said.

It is unlikely that Pence would meet with any North Korean officials under any circumstances, but these remarks show that there would be no point in meeting with them. North Korea’s government isn’t going to agree to these demands, and it is at best futile for U.S. officials to repeat these demands when they know in advance that they will be rejected. The administration’s position means that they aren’t interested in a diplomatic solution to the standoff with Pyongyang, since any solution that could be found would require that the U.S. give up on its outdated insistence on denuclearization.

Insofar as South Korea is trying to use the Olympics as an opening for reducing tensions with the DPRK, Pence’s presence is counterproductive and undermines what our ally is trying to achieve. The gap between Washington and Seoul on how to handle the North has been steadily growing over the last year, and Pence’s expected denunciations of North Korea are going to widen that gap. There is something seriously wrong when our government is determined to take a tougher line on South Korea’s neighbor than they are. It puts an unnecessary strain on the alliance, and it creates an opening in what ought to be a united front. Simply as a matter of alliance management, Pence’s Asia trip seems more likely to do harm than good, and his planned provocations seem very likely to ratchet up tensions with North Korea when there is an opportunity to lower them.

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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