The Skeptics

Newly Declassified Documents Prove America's North Korea Strategy Has Failed

The major difference between 1991–92 and 2017, of course, is that the debate in the United States has ceased to focus on permanently shutting off Pyongyang’s plutonium-reprocessing program. It’s now centered on convincing the Kim regime to freeze more nuclear tests, disarming the nuclear weapons it already possesses or transferring them to the IAEA’s custody, and mothballing a program that Kim Jong-un values as the only impediment blocking the United States from doing to him what they did to Saddam Hussein and Muammar el-Qaddafi.

After over a quarter century of failure in demanding the very same concessions from Pyongyang, and relying heavily upon the same conventional strategy (more sanctions, threats of force and diplomacy on American terms), it’s time for the United States to change the policy. The longer U.S. political leaders continue to believe that denuclearizing North Korea is realistic, the longer it will take for the White House to craft a strategy to the problem that actually has a possibility of working: Cold War–era deterrence. If mutually assured destruction worked with a far larger military, economic and political power like the Soviet Union when it had thousands of nuclear missiles pointed in the direction of the U.S. homeland and U.S. forces in Europe, perhaps it can work against an impoverished, family-run enterprise where the success of every decision is judged by how it assists in keeping the Kim family business from going in the red.

Daniel DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities.

Image: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a factory in this undated picture provided by KCNA in Pyongyang on November 4, 2017. KCNA via Reuters