Home/Daniel Larison/The U.S. Needs a New North Korea Policy

The U.S. Needs a New North Korea Policy

Yesterday North Korea test-launched an ICBM with greater range than before:

Wednesday’s launch, the first in more than two months, is a clear sign that the North Korean leader is pressing ahead with his nation’s stated goal of being able to strike the United States’ mainland and is not caving in to the Trump administration’s strategy of applying “maximum pressure.”

The missile logged a longer flight time than any of its predecessors and went farther into the atmosphere than ever before, reaching a height of 2,800 miles.

The latest missile test should also be taken as a sign that Washington needs to change its goals for North Korea policy. The administration needs to recognize that compelling North Korea to accept denuclearization has not been possible for some time because the risks of trying to force them to accept it are unacceptably high. The constant warmonger Lindsey Graham may still be talking about attacking North Korea over missile tests, but now that North Korea has demonstrated the capability to hit the U.S. mainland military action of any kind is even more dangerous than it already was.

“Maximum pressure” has not changed North Korean behavior, and pressure tactics were never going to work. The State Department can issue condemnations, but there is no “reversing” North Korea’s progress in developing its nuclear weapons and missiles. The U.S. needs to stop pretending that this is something that is within our government’s–or anyone’s–power. North Korea considers its nuclear weapons and missile programs to be essential to the regime’s survival, and there is no chance that Washington can pressure them into giving up something so important to them. If that is right, the U.S. and its allies need to approach the problem in an entirely different way. North Korea’s weapons and missile programs aren’t going away, so the U.S. and its allies have to find a way to live with that and they need to learn to manage relations with Pyongyang to ensure as much stability on the peninsula as possible.

The U.S. should be prepared to enter into talks with North Korea in coordination with regional allies, and the purpose of those talks should be to lay the groundwork for a formal peace treaty and eventually normalization of relations. The U.S. and its allies have lived with far larger threats from nuclear-armed adversaries for decades (and still live with them), and the threat from North Korea can be similarly managed and deterred. Our culture of threat inflation has made North Korea’s acquisitions of these technologies seem far more frightening than they have to be, but we need to stop panicking over this and begin thinking carefully about how to adapt to the new reality. The U.S. has sought for more than a decade to isolate North Korea into capitulation on these issues, and this has only exacerbated the problem it was supposed to address. The only time in recent history that the U.S. made any progress in altering North Korean behavior for the better was when it was willing to negotiate, and making that effort again is long overdue.

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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