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Substituting Fantasy for Policy on North Korea

Mike Pence describes [1] the Trump administration’s North Korea policy:

But in an interview with me on Wednesday afternoon, he adopted a harder line: The Trump administration, he said, demands that North Korea abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs without any promise of direct negotiations with the United States.

This is a typical hard-liner position, and it has all of the flaws that go with it. Pence is saying that the U.S. expects North Korea to give up existing programs that North Korea’s leadership believes is necessary to protect their regime from being attacked, and they have to do this as a precondition before they can even start negotiations with Washington. There is not even a guarantee that there will be negotiations. North Korea is being told that they have to engage in significant disarmament on the off-chance that Washington might make a deal with them later.

That is not a policy so much as it is just a fantasy of total capitulation by the other side. Even if North Korea’s government didn’t think that having nuclear weapons was needed to stave off attack, no government is going to give up a costly program without some guarantees and incentives, and some governments would never give them up no matter how much they were offered. As usual, the hard-liners’ maximalist demands are sure to be rejected, and by making such demands our leaders confirm the North Korean government’s assumption that they should continue developing the programs that our government insists they dismantle.

The situation is complicated by the fact that the U.S. has attacked and toppled other regimes that had given up on their unconventional weapons programs. The North Korean government has seen the U.S. target other states that could not deter an attack and concluded that they weren’t going to suffer the same fate. Maybe fifteen years ago North Korea wouldn’t have been as insistent on having their own deterrent, but now they are and they aren’t going to be forced into giving it up. Pence can stare at North Korea as fiercely as he wants, but those realities aren’t going to change just because the Trump administration wants them to.

14 Comments (Open | Close)

14 Comments To "Substituting Fantasy for Policy on North Korea"

#1 Comment By S. H. On April 19, 2017 @ 5:38 pm

Agreed. We toppled Khadafi after he gave up his nukes. Sadam gave up his wmd programs after Desert Storm, and we invaded 10 years later. The only successful denuclearization was South Africa, and that was done by the white elite so the ANC couldn’t nuke. This is a very serious problem, there is a distinct dis-incentive to give up your nukes. How will we ever advance as a people when you are killed for making good decisions?

#2 Comment By Eric On April 19, 2017 @ 6:30 pm

It’s bad enough that the admin’s approach to North Korea is so rife with muddled messages, empty threats, and outright buffoonery (see USS Vinson). But the more basic issue is that there is no good reason for Trump to drag us and especially the South Koreans (who have just a wee stake in this) to the brink of war.

Kim may be a sociopath, but there is literally no evidence he’s an irrational actor who cannot be deterred in the same way so many Soviet leaders were throughout the Cold War. The Kim regime has not survived seven decades by being suicidal.

If Trump were serious about resolving this issue, he would propose a phased, unilateral withdrawal of America’s military presence in Korea in tandem with Seoul developing its own nuclear deterrent. Only then will China’s calculus toward North Korea fundamentally change.

#3 Comment By Kevin On April 19, 2017 @ 7:30 pm

In the meanwhile, the administration quietly backed down on shredding “the worst deal in history” with Iran. And paid absolutely no political price for the demagoguery and the saber rattling.

#4 Comment By rayray On April 19, 2017 @ 7:50 pm

Not sure that helping make South Korea a nuclear nation is necessarily the best plan, feels like the ignition of a missile competition. Kind of insensitive to the neighborhood, especially given that we don’t live there. Kind of China’s business more than our’s…

That said, the US is in the withdrawal throes of some serious war shortage. Trump is willing to look anywhere, even North Korea, for where he can start dropping a serious bomb count.

#5 Comment By SF Bay On April 19, 2017 @ 8:01 pm

Eric, Kim Jong-um assumed power in 2012 after his father died. By all accounts he is quite cutthroat. He had his half brother killed. He has had over 300 people executed since coming to power. He banned weddings and funerals for a time in 2016. This man is unstable.

#6 Comment By Eric On April 19, 2017 @ 8:21 pm

SF Bay: being a sadistic sociopath does not make him irrational/suicidal. It is obviously possible that Kim could lob a nuclear-armed ICBM at the US. But every historical precedent would say otherwise. It’s certainly not worth going to preemptive war over it.

#7 Comment By Bill H On April 20, 2017 @ 1:17 am

Hillary Clinton adopted the same position in the 2008 primary. There would be no discussions with Iran until they first destroyed their uranium processing ability and shipped all uranium, enriched and not enriched, out of the country. That was a “precondition” to any talks, and agreeing to talk with Iran without such preconditions was irresponsible and stupid.

#8 Comment By Kevin On April 20, 2017 @ 8:45 am

“Hillary Clinton adopted the same position in the 2008 primary. There would be no discussions with Iran until they first destroyed their uranium processing ability and shipped all uranium, enriched and not enriched, out of the country.”

…And then she became a secretary of state and helped build a coalition which agreed on imposing sanctions on Iran, with the understanding that if after the sanctions Iran wants to talk, US will come to the table.

#9 Comment By Uncle Billy On April 20, 2017 @ 9:54 am

Kim is not going to give up his nukes, as they are the main reason he is not invaded by a foreign power. The way to deal with him is not through the media, but via the Chinese let him know that if there is ANY attack on the US, Japan or South Korea, we will make North Korea a radioactive parking lot. He would understand that.

#10 Comment By ukm1 On April 20, 2017 @ 11:15 am

U.S. President D.J. Trump is waiting for the year 2019 when American govt. will launch military strikes on the D.P.R.K. and that will help U.S. President D.J. Trump get re-elected in year 2020 just like U.S. President G.W. Bush II launched American military strikes on Iraq in year 2003 just to get re-elected in year 2004.

Majority of American voters love wars in distant foreign lands and always re-elect the Commander-in-chief during foreign wars!

#11 Comment By Mark Thomason On April 20, 2017 @ 11:18 am

“Let the other side disarm, then maybe we’ll talk” is a rather common tactic of those who do not really want to compromise.

Why doesn’t the US want any compromise? Regime change offers a US military border on China on the Yalu, very near their capital at Bejing. Regime change offers South Korea a welcome doubling of territory and 50% more population in a unified Korea.

#12 Comment By rayray On April 20, 2017 @ 12:33 pm

This seems accurate. Trump needs a war desperately. North Korea is a great target…the leader seems like a crazy person, the country is odd and deeply closed off, how difficult could it be to sell attacking them to the American people?

And Trump was never against war, per se. Trump was against Obama. Obama never bombed North Korea, so maybe it’s a good idea!

#13 Comment By Richard Debacher On April 23, 2017 @ 1:34 pm

We need to resume four-party peace talks for a final end to the Korean war. We should offer a phased withdrawal of all U.S. forces from the peninsula while the two Korea’s extend the demilitarized zone another twenty miles in each direction as talks continue. Both China and the U.S. need to pledge not to support any aggression sparked by their respective allies. A process for continuing negotiations for reuniting families, expanding cross border commerce and cultural exchanges should be put in place. It might facilitate an eventual peaceful reunification if China and other nations would offer promises of safe haven to North Korean leaders who would be subject to prosecution under a reunification agreement. Yes, all this is a long shot, but no real progress will be made until the U.S. puts its withdrawal on the table. Peace.

#14 Comment By rayray On April 24, 2017 @ 5:25 pm

@ Richard Debacher
That is an oddly sane solution. Sounds like diplomacy.