The Trump administration is now trying to salvage the North Korea summit after last week’s abrupt cancellation. The meeting may happen after all, but it seems that the administration still doesn’t understand how unrealistic its demands are:
“I think we are looking for something historic,” said the official, speaking anonymously to discuss the private meetings. “I think we’re looking for something that has never been done before. And if for whatever reason the North Koreans say they’re not ready to do something like that, fine, we tried. We will ramp up the pressure on them. And we’ll be ready for the day that hopefully they are prepared [bold mine-DL].”
The administration is arguing that if the North Koreans want security, it cannot come from nuclear weapons. Instead, their pitch is that Pyongyang will gain more security by abandoning its nuclear program, allowing it to escape from the yoke of international sanctions and isolation and concentrate on economic prosperity.
Other states have agreed to give up their nuclear weapons, because none of them believed that the survival of their government depended on keeping them. By all accounts, North Korea’s government views its nuclear weapons as essential to the preservation of the regime. No government is going to trade away something that it sees as essential to its survival, no matter how generous the offer may seem to us. Convincing North Korea’s government that it would be more secure without nuclear weapons than it is with them is exceptionally difficult because it makes no sense.
Any government that has gone to the trouble of building a nuclear arsenal at great cost isn’t going to accept that possessing that arsenal makes them less secure. The fact that North Korea is apparently going to get the summit meeting and the recognition they desire tells them that they would be foolish to give up the weapons that made those things possible. North Korea isn’t going to be “ready” to do what the administration wants because they have very strong incentives not to do it, and the administration isn’t offering them anything in exchange except the vague promise of future prosperity.
The gap between the U.S. and North Korean positions remains as wide as ever, and talk of “historic” achievements that have never been done before just raises expectations that are very likely to be disappointed. As usual, the weakness of all-or-nothing “diplomacy” is that it gets both sides nothing.