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  • Author: Van Jackson
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Center for a New American Security
  • Abstract: While the reasons for seeking North Korean denuclearization are sensible, continuing to pursue that goal makes the United States and its allies less secure. In word and deed, North Korea has shown it has no interest in nuclear disarmament. Because denuclearization is antithetical to Kim Jong Un’s bottom line, U.S. attempts at diplomacy to that end are self-sabotaging. As long as disarmament of North Korea remains America’s professed goal, Kim Jong Un has every incentive either to avoid the negotiating process or favorably manipulate it at America’s expense—by stalling for time, making unfulfilled promises, and securing concessions without reciprocity. Worse, as the 2017 nuclear confrontation showed, making denuclearization an actionable goal of U.S. policy creates real risks of crisis instability—justifying extreme measures and extreme rhetoric in the name of what has become an extreme aim. But policymakers can avoid the pitfalls of the past by attempting something more realistic than denuclearization—an arms control approach to North Korea. The United States has significant unexploited margin to take diplomatic and political risks aimed at probing and potentially shifting North Korea’s approach to its nuclear arsenal. An arms control approach would seek to reorient U.S. North Korea policy to prioritize what matters most: reducing the risk of nuclear or conventional war without forsaking other U.S. interests at stake in Korea. Using diplomacy to enhance regional stability and foreclose the possibility of an avoidable nuclear war requires pursuing a negotiated outcome that both sides can accept, and that tests North Korea’s willingness to uphold commitments short of disarmament. U.S. policy often seeks to test North Korean intentions, but without offering the accommodations and concessions that would serve as a meaningful test. Remedying this problem through an arms control approach requires taking considerable unilateral actions consistent with U.S. interests before proceeding to a phased negotiating process.
  • Topic: Arms Control and Proliferation, Risk, Denuclearization
  • Political Geography: Asia, North Korea