Four Ways President Trump Could Take Charge of the North Korea Debacle

March 14, 2017 Topic: Security Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Skeptics Tags: WorldNorth KoreaSouth KoreaDefenseDonald TrumpChina

Four Ways President Trump Could Take Charge of the North Korea Debacle

Washington should allow South Korea to take the initiative in addressing the North.

Second, the Trump administration should offer to talk with the North. While the objective should remain denuclearization, Washington should be practical. Agenda items should include a missile/nuclear freeze, conventional arms reduction, peace treaty and diplomatic recognition. While North Korean promises should be treated skeptically, the United States should be prepared to take steps which address DPRK security concerns.

Third, Washington should challenge the People’s Republic of China to back America’s diplomatic effort with economic muscle. Beijing has urged the United States to engage the North. After following the PRC’s advice America could insist that China press for a positive North Korean response. Beijing’s frustration with the DPRK is obvious: the United States should address Chinese fears about a possible North Korean collapse and attempt to build a common front.

Finally, Washington should allow South Korea to take the initiative in addressing the North. At the same time, however, the administration should insist that Seoul bear responsibility for its own decisions. For instance, if the ROK wants to restart the Sunshine Policy, then so be it. However, the South should not expect American troops to play guardians while South Koreans send money to the North to build nuclear weapons. If Seoul perceives a threat, better to spend that money on defense.

The ROK is in the midst of the worst political instability since the 1987 democracy protests ended the military dictatorship and the 1979 assassination of the long-serving dictator Park Chung-hee, father of the recently deposed president. Nevertheless, democratic and legal institutions have proved their worth. The ROK should safely navigate the political storm.

Policy toward the North might change dramatically, however, the United States should join in a broad rethink about how to respond to Pyongyang’s challenge. Neither Americans nor South Koreans can afford a repeat of the last eight years.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He is the author of Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World and coauthor of The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with North and South Korea.

Image: Mural at Pyongyang Film Studios. Flickr/Creative Commons/John Pavelka