, Volume 92, Number 5

Niv Farago
More than two decades of nuclear dialogue between the United States and North Korea have not prevented Pyongyang from conducting four nuclear tests and building up a nuclear weapons arsenal. Putting the blame for the failure of this dialogue solely on Pyongyang ignores the hesitancy and confusion of US policy. Historical evidence suggests that the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations consistently failed to prioritize their objectives and adopted an impatient and uncompromising negotiating strategy that contributed to this ongoing non-proliferation fiasco. Identifying US policy mistakes at important crossroads in the dialogue with Pyongyang could help to prevent similar mistakes in the future. In this regard, the following analysis suggests a new approach towards Pyongyang based on a long-term trust-building process during which North Korea would be required to cap and then gradually eliminate its nuclear weapons in return for economic assistance and normalization of relations with the United States. Importantly, the United States might have to resign itself to North Korea’s keeping an independent nuclear fuel cycle under supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as to accepting South Korea’s request to independently enrich uranium and pyroprocess spent nuclear fuel. This would be a more favourable alternative to allowing North Korea to continue accumulating nuclear weapons. Moreover, if the United States continues on the Obama administration’s failed policy path, then there is a better than even chance that the Korean Peninsula may slide into a nuclear arms race.

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