Line of the Day: NK Denuclearization Edition

And a link to a worthwhile read.

“The U.S. position — that North Korea must unilaterally abandon its nuclear capabilities in exchange for promises of some different future — is a kind of American fantasy about power that is more suited to an action movie than the reality of international negotiations.”–Jeffery Lewis, a leading scholar on the question.

The quote, which is on point, is from this op/ed at NPR:  Opinion: Trump Just Walked Away From The Best North Korea Deal He’ll Ever Get.

North Korea is not going to give up its nuclear program.  There will be no denuclearized Korea peninsula.  As Lewis asks in the piece:

Why would North Korea, having completed the development of a nuclear deterrent that puts it in a class with countries like China, India, Pakistan and Israel, simply apologize and turn over these capabilities in exchange for a couple of McDonald’s and a Trump Tower Pyongyang?

Lewis notes the following was on the table, and it was likely as good as it was going to get:

North Korea would offer to shut down facilities at its Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center that were involved in making plutonium and highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. In exchange, North Korea asked the United States to lift sanctions that had been imposed on its civilian economy since 2016.

Of course, North Korea would retain its nuclear weapons, long-range missiles and many other facilities after such an agreement. And the United States and other countries would also retain many sanctions on North Korea. The agreement on offer was hardly the disarmament that the president had hoped for, but it would have been another step away from the taunts and threats of 2017 and toward some other future. That was the deal the U.S. should have taken.

For the North Koreans, the logic of the offer was obvious. The United Nations had tightened existing sanctions in 2016 in response to a series of tests of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. North Korea has now stopped such tests, closed its nuclear test site, partially dismantled a rocket-engine test stand and offered to dismantle some of the facilities at Yongbyon. Surely an adjustment in sanctions was warranted.

Trump and his team disagreed. One State Department official explained that North Korea must not merely end testing but also give up all the weapons developed on the basis of those tests.

And note that Lewis is critical of the US effort in general (not just the Trump administration) in regards to North Korea:

Time and again, the United States has walked away from diplomatic agreements with North Korea. In fairness, the North Koreans have been no angels. But the U.S. has seldom stuck around long enough to work through the difficulties and differences.

Each time, North Korea has increased its nuclear capability. In 2002, the United States walked away from the 1994 Agreed Framework that froze North Korea’s plutonium production, only to see North Korea conduct its first nuclear test in 2006. The United States tried again but abandoned Six-Party Talks in 2008 over concerns about verification, only to watch North Korea conduct more nuclear tests. And in 2012, the U.S. walked away from another tentative deal over a North Korean rocket launch, only to see Pyongyang spend the past few years testing ever more weapons, including its ICBM and thermonuclear weapon to arm it.

Each time the United States walked, a lot of people in Washington promised that patience and pressure would produce a better deal than the one squandered. And each time they were wrong. Like a gambler racking up debt, the U.S. foreign policy community has consistently taken its chances at the roulette table rather than cutting its losses and admitting the obvious: North Korea has the bomb.

And they are not going to give it up.  There is no logic that should lead any of us to think otherwise.  Any deal with NK is going to be with a nuclear NK.

FILED UNDER: Asia, US Politics, World Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. CSK says:

    I think that just as the Trump Fan Club came to decide that Putin is a really good guy (he’s a “Christian” strongman who hates gay people; what’s not to like?), they’ll decide, sooner or later, that Kim’s also a swell guy and that North Korea is Our Friend. Instead of seeing potbellied dudes wearing “I’D RATHER BE RUSSIAN THAN DEMOCRAT” t-shirts at Trump rallies, we’ll see them sporting “I’D RATHER BE NORTH KOREAN THAN DEMOCRAT” t-shirts.

    Trump loves Kim. He said he does. Whither Trump goes, the schmucks happily follow.

  2. Teve says:

    The quote, which is on point, is from this op/ed at NPR: Opinion: Trump Just Walked Away From The Best North Korea Deal He’ll Ever Get.

    Kind of like how he was offered 25 billion dollars for the wall, and through careful expert negotiation over the next 12 months he talked them down to 1.3 billion for not a wall.

  3. Kathy says:

    On related news, Cuba is expected to crack under the weight of the US trade embargo any minute now.

    It’s relatively easy to keep up a failing or counterproductive policy for decades, so long as the country applying it does not get hurt, or pays no cost.

    Or perhaps even an acceptable cost, even if it’s in blood and treasure. Whereas Vietnam lasted several years, Afghanistan and Iraq are near the two decade mark now. Think about it. Next year, US soldiers may die in Afghanistan who were not even born by September 11th 2001.

  4. Gustopher says:

    Trump and his team disagreed. One State Department official explained that North Korea must not merely end testing but also give up all the weapons developed on the basis of those tests.

    I can see the logic on this, but it doesn’t give the North Koreans an incentive to stop testing and building better weapons.

    We are where we are, and we have to work from there.

    At this point, I would be fine with the US unilaterally relaxing some of the sanctions while there is no further testing, with an announcement of additional sanctions to go in effect if there is additional testing, and then continuing lower level negotiations. Take the North Korean offer as a starting point, but with no long term commitment from either side.

    At this point, the goal can’t be to get North Korea to give up its weapons, but to demilitarize the demilitarized zone, find a lasting peace, and bring North Korea into the international community. There need to be some carrots to balance the sticks.

    Do they act crazy because they are crazy, or because we have cut off all effective noncrazy options? Probably a bit of both. But, isolating regimes hasn’t worked in Cuba or Iran, and I see no reason to expect it works here.

  5. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Just to balance things out a little: North Korea has to disarm!! We have said so for decades now and we mean it!! We’re TEAM AMERICA (f^ck yeah!) and what we say goes! And we are eternally grateful–and should be–that we finally have a leader who understands the greatness of our country and will stand up to that fat little thug and give him what for! MAWA!

  6. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Teve: Say what you want. The Republicans are still holding the Dreamers hostage. That’s more valuable than any wall because it’s tangible power! Lives at steak! The Dumbocraps will fold eventually and Team America will win! MAWA!