December 04, 2018

Can the U.S. Reinstate “Maximum Pressure” on North Korea?

By Eric Brewer

The diplomatic sprint to North Korean denuclearization has slowed to a crawl. Earlier last month, North Korea abruptly canceled talks with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, with reports suggesting that Pyongyang continues to enhance its nuclear and missile capabilities. Despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s insistence that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is serious about giving up his nuclear weapons, chances are good that the United States is going to need a Plan B to manage the nuclear threat.

Unfortunately, the air had already been leaking out of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” strategy since early to mid-2018. Worse still, it will likely prove extremely difficult to revive international efforts to squeeze North Korea if the current diplomatic push hits a dead end. Key countries that were supportive of the pressure campaign—most notably China and South Korea—are intent on mending ties with Pyongyang, which for now has ceased the type of provocations that could unite the world against it. Meanwhile, Trump’s lavish praise of Kim has further impeded the United States’ ability to rally foreign partners to pressure the North.

If current trends continue, any attempt to reinstate maximum pressure may well prove ineffective. The hard collapse of diplomacy could dangerously narrow U.S. policy options and make military conflict more likely.

Read the full article in Foreign Affairs.

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