America Has Nothing to Lose in Talking to North Korea
But history has proven that diplomacy with Pyongyang isn’t the disaster that its critics often proclaim it to be. For all its faults, the 1994 Agreed Framework that was struck during the Clinton administration wasn’t Munich II, as John Bolton always claimed it to be: as Jeffrey Lewis of the Monterrey Institute has written, that agreement shut down Pyongyang’s plutonium weapons program for a solid eight years—a fact that often gets overlooked thanks to the dramatic way that the deal unraveled. Additional deals have been reached with the North Korean leadership as well. And while all of these have eventually collapsed, due to mistrust between the parties or outright violations by Pyongyang, the fact that missile moratoriums have been reached in the past is proof (however little) that talks don’t have to be a dead letter. They should always be an option in America’s toolkit.
North Korea’s missile test last weekend is one more demonstration that the status quo isn’t good enough. What North Korea hawks don’t seem to recognize is that we’ve generally followed their advice over the past two decades, with very little to show for it other than more North Korean nuke tests, more nuclear weapons in North Korea's arsenal and the very frightening prospect that Pyongyang could wield an ICBM over America’s West Coast. It might be time for some shrewd—albeit frustrating and politically toxic—negotiations. What better person to explore the possibility of the diplomatic option than a shrewd businessman-turned-politician who ran on shaking up the establishment, rewriting the rules and making good deals for America?
Daniel R. DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities.
Image: KPA guard at the general officer talks on March 6, 2009. Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Forces Korea