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U.S.-North Korea Relations: A Balancing Act

America should maintain a hardline stance on North Korea. That doesn’t mean a belligerent one. If the policies of the Kim dynasty over the decades make one thing clear, it’s that the survival and health of the regime always take precedence: survival at the expense of nearly 26 million North Korean citizens, who have been the victims of primordial, Stalinist style oppression for 75 years.

The Kim dynasty cements its ignominious reputation by continually destabilizing the political landscape in Asia and doing so in a fashion many would liken to blackmail. It is important that the U.S. responds appropriately to the extent of the violations of international law and human rights abuses perpetrated by the Kim dynasty.

U.S. foreign policy on North Korea should maintain a regional alliance with the South that exhibits strong readiness and deterrence capabilities. Kim has undoubtedly been observing the conflict in Ukraine. The most valuable insight he will have gathered is that nuclear weapons are integral to ensuring regime security.

Because Kim Jong Un is more likely to continue developing his nuclear weapons program than engage in denuclearization talks, America should continue its current policy directives. That is, increasing bilateral ties and military cooperation with Seoul and other important regional actors, like Tokyo, in order to enhance the credibility of its deterrence policy and its image as a reliable security partner.

In the event that the regime collapses, the U.S. should prepare a relevant adaptation of the Nunn-Lugar program. This program was deployed in the 1990s to provide economic security and employment opportunities to Soviet nuclear scientists and weapons engineers, lest they auction their services off to another belligerent actor on the global stage.

Additionally, America should refrain from creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by labeling North Korea (alongside China and Russia) as a new “axis of evil”. Instead, Washington should seek to create incentives for North Korea to distance itself from Beijing and Moscow, thereby reducing the threat of a united triumvirate.  

Though the situation is tense, North Korea has ample reason to avoid conflict. Any nuclear exchange would result in an inevitable North Korean loss, given the chasm between Washington and Pyongyang in weapons stockpiles and delivery systems technologies. For this reason, North Korea’s nuclear weapons act more like a bargaining chip than a reliable tool of war.

Still, it is crucial that America pursues a hardline policy toward North Korea. A precedent for rogue states must be set to avoid emboldening regimes around the world that might be inclined towards despotism and human rights abuses.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

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