How does the threat posed by North Korea end? There are many "hard landing" scenarios. War. Regime collapse. A premature exit by Kim Jong Un that leads to a military junta or another family member taking over. There aren't many "soft landings" except for maybe the "China model," a process where the North liberalizes its economy like China did in the late 1970s and slowly becomes a more responsible, if not particularly appealing, country. The problem with all these scenarios is the nuclear weapons remain — or worse — they are used.
The Lesson of Nuclear History: Use Diplomacy. During the nuclear age, dozens of countries started down the path to nuclear weapons but reversed course. And there are cases where countries that acquired or inherited nuclear weapons gave them up outright. Often, that happy result was accomplished not through war but diplomacy – agreements that stopped or rolled back a nuclear weapons program.
But we can't negotiate with a murderous, evil regime, right? Well actually, we do it all the time, and thank God, because it has protected our national security. Nuclear agreements with the gulag building Soviet Union? Yep. How about the terror supporting, Israel hating Colonel Gaddafi in Libya? Check. Talking to your adversary is not a reward; it's how you protect yourself and your interests. When the North Koreans are at the table they are better behaved, the danger of war through miscalculation and misperception declines, and with an agreement, you can freeze or even roll back that nuclear program.
Bottom line: No negotiation? Well, you better start preparing for that hard landing.
- James Poulos, foreign policy author, contributing editor at American Affairs: Wage cyberwar on North Korea's infrastructure
- Van Jackson, former Defense Department adviser focused on the Asia-Pacific: Escalation could lead to nuclear war
- Wendy R. Sherman, former undersecretary of State for political affairs: Full-court diplomacy (even secret talks with North Korea)
- Kurt Campbell, former assistant secretary of State for east Asian and Pacific affairs: A Trump Nixon-to-China moment in North Korea