I can’t help but feel that Joel S. Wit and Richard Sokolsky’s article at Atlantic on how to make a deal with North Korea is arrant nonsense:
Reading North Korean intentions is, of course, always a tricky business. However, the White House, already consumed with putting out daily fires and faced with a bunch of bad options for constraining North Korea, has little to lose in exploring them. Moreover, the U.S. will be no worse off than it is now if testing the North proves that it is not serious about abandoning the escalatory path it has been on for the past eight years. In fact, it will arguably be in a stronger position to seek greater Chinese pressure on the North if it has, as Beijing has urged, pursued diplomacy.
Speed is of the essence to get past a potentially escalating crisis and that will require balancing a complicated set of initiatives. The Trump administration has already taken two important steps: moving forward with United Nations deliberations on Pyongyang’s ballistic-missile test, since it violates existing sanctions; and signaling to the North that Washington will defend its allies. But it also makes sense to test North Korea’s intentions by signaling a new openness to serious diplomacy without preconditions.
Such contacts would be facilitated by reactivating the only channel of communication between the two countries through Pyongyang’s Mission to the UN, which has been shut down since last July. And given the tightly controlled and centralized North Korean political system, it would also make sense to create a parallel and private high-level dialogue between Trump and Kim Jong Un, starting with direct communications between the two leaders. Suspending the exercises, as the North Koreans have demanded, is neither politically nor strategically prudent. But continuing to speak publicly about decapitating the North Korean leadership and making overt nuclear gestures, such as over-flights of long-range nuclear-capable bombers, would send precisely the wrong signal unless Pyongyang conducts another nuclear test.
We know with a confidence based on experience that North Korea cannot be trusted to honor any agreement. Full stop.
I do think there’s a strategy that would work short of war: embarrass the Chinese regime. I believe they’ll throw the North Korean baby off the back of the troika if the wolves get close enough. Start a relentless public opinion campaign characterizing the Chinese authorities as weak because they can’t control Kim Jong Un and rather claiming that any action that doesn’t accomplish that is a “wag the dog” strategy to distract from their weakness. And so on.
I don’t believe that the Trump Administration is subtle or skilled enough to pull that off and there are too many American businessmen making money off cheap Chinese labor to upset the China trade applecart.
Meanwhile, we’ll just wait until one of North Korea’s nuclear-armed ICBMs goes astray and strikes Kyoto. Or Honolulu.