Rex Tillerson attempts to defend the Trump administration’s diplomatic record in a new op-ed. The section on North Korea shows why his larger argument shouldn’t be taken seriously:
We hope that this international isolation will pressure the regime into serious negotiations on the abandonment of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. A door to dialogue remains open, but we have made it clear that the regime must earn its way back to the negotiating table. Until denuclearization occurs, the pressure will continue.
Whatever Trump administration officials may “hope” will happen, there is no reason to think that the North Korean government can be pressured into abandoning programs that it has said repeatedly that it will never give up. Tillerson’s “door to dialogue” doesn’t offer North Korea anything if the condition for dialogue requires North Korea to concede everything in advance. Tillerson is effectively saying that the U.S. pressure campaign will go on forever. That isn’t going to succeed. Denuclearization isn’t going to happen, and it should already be obvious that it won’t. North Korea considers its nuclear weapons to be essential for the regime’s survival, and there is no amount of economic and diplomatic pressure that can be brought to bear that will make them abandon something that important. It is a measure of how unrealistic the administration’s North Korea policy is that top U.S. officials keep making a demand that we all know will never be met.
Tillerson claims later in the op-ed that he remains “optimistic about the power of diplomacy to resolve conflicts and advance American interests,” but the administration’s handling of this issue shows that it places no value on diplomacy except as a tool for imposing futile punitive measures. The administration’s approach to North Korea entails a rejection of any diplomatic solution that doesn’t achieve the impossible. There is nothing about this that should make Tillerson proud, and this op-ed gives his critics another reason to be embarrassed that Tillerson remains our Secretary of State.