Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Our ‘Preposterous’ North Korea Policy

Demanding denuclearization is a dead end.

North Korea stated once again that it won’t agree to the administration’s preconditions for negotiatons:

North Korea says President Trump’s demand that it abandon its nuclear program as a precondition to diplomatic negotiations is “preposterous,” ruling out the possibility in a new statement Sunday.

The administration and its allies don’t like to admit it, but their precondition for negotiations is preposterous. It isn’t possible to negotiate with an adversary when the U.S. puts the bar for starting talks so high that the adversary has no incentive to participate. If the U.S. were genuinely interested in negotiating with North Korea to find some mutually acceptable compromise, it would set no preconditions at first and would test the other side’s willingness to talk about limiting its weapons and missile testing. Requiring North Korea to capitulate first before the U.S. will make them any offer is a reliable way to guarantee that no diplomatic progress can be made.

Our political leaders are usually no good at imagining what they would do if they were in their counterparts’ position. If another government declared that the U.S. had to disarm itself of its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles before they would even talk to us, we would dismiss the demand as nonsense and take it as proof that the other side had no interest in finding a diplomatic solution. When we make absurd, maximalist demands that everyone knows they will never accept, this doesn’t put pressure on the adversary. On the contrary, it makes it easier for them to ignore everything we have to say because they have already concluded that we are dealing with them in bad faith. Demanding denuclearization is a dead end, and the more that the U.S. insists on this outcome the more nuclear weapons and missile tests North Korea will conduct in response.