Playground taunts will not defuse the North Korea crisis
The Trump administration believes the Chinese government could do more to pressure Kim. It is true that China has the power to destroy the fragile North Korean economy, but Chinese leaders are not willing to confront the consequences of provoking a collapse of central authority in Pyongyang. And the Kim dynasty has shown a willingness to force the North Korean people to endure unspeakable hardship in the pursuit of national goals.
I see no way that Kim is ever going to be persuaded or coerced into giving up his nukes. Maybe he would do so under imminent threat of being deposed. But in any scenario I can imagine, he has more leverage with nuclear weapons than without them. I don't want to live in a world in which a nuclear-tipped North Korean missile can hit Guam or Hawaii or Los Angeles or Chicago, but we may not have a choice.
Deterrence does work, though. It worked throughout the Cold War. It worked during Mao's Cultural Revolution, when China was at least as unhinged as North Korea is today. It works between India and Pakistan.
Trump once said he would be willing to meet with Kim. If the president can be kept from making further threats and the present crisis allowed to subside, perhaps we can eventually offer direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang -- something Kim dearly wants -- with the subject being a verifiable freeze on the North Korean nuclear program. After a freeze is in place for a while, it might be possible to negotiate reductions.
As I said, we need to be patient and realistic. Someone please distract the president with a shiny object for the next few years.
Eugene Robinson's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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