North Korea wants nuclear weapons so that it can be a player in the global community; and in the end the United States will accept North Korea’s nuclear status. Like Pakistan.
“[M]ost of the people you talk to who specialize in this subject agree that we’re probably going to end up in a situation where North Korea has nuclear weapons. It is a nuclear state, and we learn to co-exist with it.”
Evan Osnos of the New Yorker said that yesterday on National Public Radio.
And of course the obvious comparison is to Iran, which is nothing like North Korea on the lunacy scale; but which our politicians say must never acquire nuclear weapons. In fact, the whole point of the Iran deal was that it would not acquire nuclear weapons.
Osnos went to Pyongyang for four days last month and yesterday Terry Gross interviewed him on Fresh Air about North Korea’s desire to be a normal country.
GROSS: So if North Korea wants to play in the global community of nations and they want diplomatic relations with the U.S., but they don’t want to give up their nuclear program, what if – what if the U.S. said, OK, we’re going to open up relations with you. And we’re going to try to avoid a nuclear confrontation by having diplomatic relations. And we understand that North Korea is not going to give up their nuclear weapons. Is that a conceivable angle that might be played. And if so, what would the world look like if that happened?
OSNOS: That is a conceivable angle. In fact, I think that’s a very likely destination. It’s hard for the U.S. government to say that now because they certainly don’t want to give up the possibility of North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons. But most of the people you talk to who specialize in this subject agree that we’re probably going to end up in a situation where North Korea has nuclear weapons. It is a nuclear state, and we learn to co-exist with it. And there are various ways that can look. You know, North Korea wants us to treat it like Pakistan, which is, after all, a member of the international community. It’s got nuclear weapons. The U.S. never acknowledged it, never celebrated it but learned to live with it and doesn’t treat it as a hostile threat.
I think another version that you hear promoted these days is the possibility that we may eventually treat North Korea a bit like the way we treated Cuba, even when we had a hostile relationship, which is that we had an interest section in Havana. And the possibility might be that even if we don’t have full diplomatic relations with North Korea, that we open up some kind of channel so that we know what’s going on and that we’re able to protect our people on the ground.
But at this stage, the reality is that it’s too hostile to imagine us opening formal diplomatic relations. The most logical and conceivable first step is that we get to the negotiating table at all and begin to try to come up with a framework that would de-escalate the tensions, which means, in practice, trying to get the North Koreans to slow down or freeze the level of development that they’re doing on their weapons programs. And in return, the U.S. might freeze, as it’s known, the level of joint-military exercises that it conducts with South Korea. These are the kinds of things that might be in play. But at this point, we’re a long way from formal diplomatic recognition. The first step is really getting to the table at all.
Back to the Iran non-parallel. Why has Iran always been treated differently in US policy and discourse than North Korea? Why is the idea of containment, which Columbia’s Kenneth Waltz was considered a heretic for saying was possible with Iran, off the table for Iran, but on the table for North Korea? Why did the Obama administration spend every last bit of its political capital to bring off a historic global deal with Iran, and all so as to fend off the alternative, attacking Iran? Why do our politicians threaten to “obliterate” Iran, a country with trade relationships across Europe; and meantime pariah North Korea takes far more belligerent actions toward its neighbors, South Korea and Japan, and there’s a watchful-waiting policy? Because of the Israel lobby, because of the centrality of Israel to our politics and our foreign policy.