International Affairs

Engaging the Hermit Kingdom

September 08, 2017

I often find myself in disagreement with Andrew Roberts—though I respect him—but he is surely right here. We in the West retain our nuclear capability because it is a deterrent. We demonstrate our destructive capability in order to avoid war and preserve peace. It is the very big stick that Teddy Roosevelt recommended.

Now, it is, of course, in the general interest that nuclear proliferation be prevented. This has been recognized for more than half a century by the Great Powers. This may be hypocritical, since all of them have a nuclear armory themselves. Nevertheless it has made sense, and so we have tried to stop other states—“rogue states”, we like to say—from acquiring a nuclear capability. I think we have been right to do so.

However, in the case of North Korea, it is now clear that the policy of prevention has failed. North Korea is banging at the door of the nuclear club. This doesn’t mean it is “begging for war,” no matter how belligerent and threatening its language is. It does mean, however, that we are faced with a new reality; we know now what lies on the other side of the hill: a North Korea with an alarming nuclear capability.

A rational response is to open the door and admit North Korea to the club, to recognize that it is now a nuclear power and deal with it on that basis. Some will denounce this as appeasement; others will see it as common sense. A statesman has to look reality in the face. President Trump prides himself on his ability as a dealmaker. Well, there is a deal to be made. There’s a deal that should be made, because the danger of failing to make a deal is terrible: terrible for Koreas North and South, terrible for Japan, terrible, possibly, for the United States itself. As a start, President Trump might invite Kim Jong-un to the White House. For once, one can agree with Vladimir Putin: The only sane way to resolve this crisis is through “peaceful dialogue.”

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