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Little Optimism for Negotiations with North Korea


I have an article up at TAP on the prospect for negotiations with North Korea:

An agreement with North Korea could happen in two ways. First, the United States and its allies could pursue a “grand bargain” to resolve the major issues of dispute and effectively normalize relations in Northeast Asia. Second, the U.S. and its allies could pursue an incremental strategy designed to produce trust and to resolve immediate issues of crisis. Both approaches have their merits; the former recognizes the linkage between problems and attempts to shorten the period in which the parties can sabotage an agreement, while the latter aims at modest, realizable short-term gains.

Sadly, neither of these approaches is likely to bear fruit.

Obviously, I’m not optimistic about the future. Whether or not better management in 2002 and before could have put us on a different course, I don’t see that the current relationship between the US and North Korea as a good greenhouse for even incremental diplomatic progress.   Carter’s op-ed reveals one of the major problems; North Korea’s initial position is that South Korea should be excluded from negotiations.  While I think that US ineptitude contributed to the collapse of the Agreed Framework, I have also come to believe that factors internal to North Korea made successful negotiation a very low probability event.

The best we can do now is hope for change internal to North Korea, which need not necessarily take the form of full-scale regime change. I suspect that Kim Jong Il needs to be dead before any meaningful change can happen, not necessarily because he’s particularly crazy or irrational, but rather because the impending succession crisis makes any diplomatic maneuver more difficult for North Korea. I should hasten to add that I don’t support military action in the service of regime change; the costs are virtually incalculable. I do think that military response is one necessary managerial tool for the relationship, but it is critically important that any response to specific provocations is measured, limited, and spearheaded by South Korea.

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