Wanted: A Plan for Nuclear Diplomacy

    Louis René Beres

    Security, Asia

    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reacts during a celebration for nuclear scientists and engineers who contributed to a hydrogen bomb test, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on September 10, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS

    Trump will have no remaining choice but to “live with” a nuclear North Korea, and the United States will finally have to focus on meaningfully tangible and authentically realistic goals.

    It’s time to talk substance about North Korea. At some point after the recent Singapore summit, when all comforting optics have been set aside and core definitions deciphered, it will become plain that Kim Jong-un could never have had any serious intention to “denuclearize.” Accordingly, earlier expectations originally spawned by the White House that Pyongyang might somehow wittingly destroy its relevant weapons and infrastructures (“complete denuclearization”) will have to be discarded.

    Such conveniently fanciful U.S. hopes, it will then be irrefutable, could never have been plausible.

    At that now foreseeable stage of negotiations, because President Donald Trump will have no remaining choice but to “live with” a nuclear North Korea, the United States will finally have to focus on meaningfully tangible and authentically realistic goals. Most important, in this connection, will be the creation of a durable and mutually gainful deterrence regime with Pyongyang. Inevitably, because these two nuclear adversaries will be starkly asymmetrical in nuclear military terms—that is, in regard to their respective nuclear assets and corollary capabilities—Washington will require something fundamentally different from its Cold War era strategic posture.

    Back then, seeking a viable war-avoidance regime between roughly symmetrical superpowers, the basic security stance was aptly termed “mutual assured destruction,” or simply MAD. That stance would not be appropriate today.

    How shall Washington best proceed? To begin, meeting new and necessary strategic objectives by the United States should no longer center on fine-tuning shallow “marketing” decisions at the Trump White House. Going forward, the critical U.S. security task will necessarily go substantially beyond narrowly childish presidential assessments of adversarial body language. Now it must involve facing multilayered, and many-sided intellectual challenges, efforts effectively integrating myriad separate components with various complex issues of potentially staggering density.

    Not by any means will this daunting task be suitably manageable by those who would mistakenly substitute “hope” for rigorous analysis.

    In essence, it will never lend itself to any proper resolution by an American president who remains mired in utterly superficial elements of bargaining, irremediably intoxicated with showcasing his alleged diplomatic priorities of “attitude” over “preparation.”

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