However, the only way to find out how serious North Korea is about denuclearization or to enable a peace process on the Korean Peninsula is for the United States to actually talk to North Korea and provide actions that demonstrate greater credible commitment. President Moon Jae-in has teed the ball for Washington. The White House is taking a swing at resuming negotiations with North Korea. The real test, however, is whether the United States makes some “corresponding measures,” which both President Moon and Chairman Kim Jong-un hope to see from President Donald Trump. Whether this comes in the form of a declaration to end the Korean War, or some rollback of sanctions—at least enough to permit inter-Korea reconciliation to move forward—is up for the negotiators of the two parties to decide. But if peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula is the first path to denuclearization, is it not worth offering a concession in return to play ball?
There is a danger of tunnel vision about denuclearization. Focusing only on denuclearization, or even on the military element of North Korea, ignores the larger issue: how to create and advance a more stable, political relationship between North Korea and the world. Denuclearization is not the ultimate goal here, but rather a peaceful and stable Korean Peninsula is the end state. Denuclearization is surely a significant part of that goal. However, by making denuclearization the first step, it quite possibly puts the cart before the horse.
In sum, skepticism in Washington, DC exists for many reasons—but given where we are today, and where we were a year ago, the moves towards détente on the peninsula are important and worth pursuing.
Andrew Yeo is an associate professor of politics and director of Asian Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. His most recent and forthcoming books include North Korean Human Rights: Activists and Network (with Danielle Chubb), and Asia’s Regional Architecture: Alliances and Institutions in the Pacific Century.
David C. Kang is Maria Crutcher Professor of International Relations at the University of Southern California, where he also directs the USC Korean Studies Institute. His most recent books include (with Victor Cha) A Nuclear North Korea: A Debate on Engagement Strategies, and American Grand Strategy and East Asian Security in the 21st Century .