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How to Solve the North Korea Crisis Once and for All

September 22, 2019 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

Talks with North Korea have essentially been stalled since February’s Hanoi Summit. Despite great hopes after the July handshake meet-up at Panmunjom, nothing more has developed. U.S. officials predicted imminent negotiations. The North Koreans threatened to choose a different path—and undertook a series of short-range missile tests.


However, Choe Son Hui, first vice foreign minister of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, offered to begin talks. But she added a warning: “if the U.S. side fingers again the worn-out scenario which has nothing to do with new decision methods at the DPRK-U.S. working negotiation to be held with so much effort, the DPRK-U.S. dealings may come to an end.” That is, unless Washington offers something more, Pyongyang will walk. Punctuating her comment was the launch of two projectiles, likely short-range missiles.

Obviously, there is more than a little theater in the North Korean “offer.” It obviously is intended to increase the North’s negotiating leverage. But it also reflects Chairman Kim Jong-un’s stated position and perceived interests. Washington should take it seriously.

How to negotiate with Pyongyang over its nukes? First, be realistic. With John Bolton out as national security adviser, perhaps President Donald Trump will be more willing to abandon his expectation of getting the DPRK to turn over all its nukes within a year or so.

Irrespective of what Kim has said, almost all his incentives run against yielding the North’s arsenal. The dynasty has invested heavily in nuclear weapons—prestige as well as resources. The regime’s nukes and missiles cause other nations to pay attention to the poor, small, isolated and otherwise irrelevant nation. Acquiring the weapons of a superpower also rewards the military for its loyalty.

Most important, nuclear weapons are the ultimate deterrent. As Henry Kissinger once observed, even paranoids have enemies. Kim could possess aggressive designs, like his grandfather, but the destruction visited on the North during the Korean War is a strong argument against any renewed attack. In contrast, the United States has regularly imposed regime change or otherwise coerced small states. The list is long, especially after the Soviet Union collapsed, when Washington viewed itself as the unipower, the hyper-power, the essential nation, the decider and more.