In 2017 North Korea tested a thermonuclear weapon and intercontinental ballistic missiles with ranges that can reach the United States’ mainland. We now know that President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un believed war between the U.S. and DPRK was likely. In 2018, a North Korean initiated summit changed the trajectory of the problem and it seemed to be heading towards a negotiated solution. But the effort failed and North Korea’s leadership this year has rejected any further engagement. While the diplomatic engagement of 2018-19 did create a pause in DPRK nuclear and long-range missile testing, the country has continued to build nuclear weapons and missiles in the interim. If their past behavior is any guide, we can expect the North Koreans to do something to grab the U.S. President’s attention early next year. How the next Administration – whoever wins the election – responds could be fateful. Viable options to deal with a North Korean challenge are much less numerous than they were in 2017.
The U.S. and North Korea came close to war in 2017 because leaders on both sides have large blind spots and cannot recognize that there are interim solutions to their security problems. On the U.S. side, there is a lack of appreciation for the limits of its tools to achieve its goals. Ironically, the real threat of nuclear war is not being generated by North Korea’s technological developments, but rather by panic over its achievements. There are still paths available to stabilize the situation and to manage the problem of a nuclear-armed North Korea to the advantage of the U.S. and its allies. This needs to start with an appreciation for North Korean motives and how the problem looks to others with deep interests.
This talk will discuss the history and development of North Korea after WWII, the historical roots of why the North Korean leadership acts the way that it does, the lens through which the North Korean leadership sees the rest of the world, their development of nuclear warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles, and previous attempts by the U.S. and its allies to prevent the development of these weapons. The talk will conclude with options available to the U.S. to deal with North Korea.