August 28, 2018

Why Washington and Seoul Need to Harmonize Their Approaches to North Korea

Otherwise, Pyongyang is going to drive a wedge between America and South Korea.

By Patrick M. Cronin and Kristine Lee

For the past sixty-five years, amidst the ebb and flow of heightened tensions with North Korea, the U.S.-ROK relationship has remained the cornerstone of a successful alliance. South Korean support for the alliance remains remarkably high . But as the euphoria of unprecedented summitry with Pyongyang fades, uncertainty about the trajectory of diplomacy underscores the grave risks that inadequate coordination between the American and South Korean governments could bring to bear.

The current state of play can be summed up in one of three possible contingencies. We could either be on the cusp of a breakthrough with North Korea; on the verge of declaring experimental diplomacy with Pyongyang a failure; or mired in a permanent impasse. In either of the latter two scenarios, Washington will need to contend with the possibility that the Moon administration may forge ahead with its coveted peace deal with Pyongyang, even as denuclearization negotiations sputter.

Washington and Seoul urgently need to bring their approaches to North Korea back into alignment. In particular, the Trump administration needs to bear down on its plan for how to harmonize Seoul’s primary objective of inter-Korean peace with its own priority of ensuring North Korea’s denuclearization. The appointment of a widely respected professional in Steve Biegun to serve as full-time special envoy for North Korea certainly enhances the U.S. diplomatic team.

However, North Korea policy remains tricky. President Donald Trump’s abrupt cancellation of Secretary of State Pompeo’s planned trip to Pyongyang spotlights his growing frustration with the plodding pace of progress vis-à-vis North Korea’s nuclear program and suggests the administration may be approaching a new decision point.

Some South Koreans like to think the problem is that President Trump lacks the patience for making a deal with North Korea. Trump is undeniably impatient, but patience will not convince North Korea to start dismantling its nuclear program. The fact that South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha called her American counterpart to express regret at the potential loss of diplomatic momentum highlighted the gap between the two allies.


Read the Full Article at The National Interest

  • Reports
    • January 20, 2022
    Dealing with a Taliban-Controlled Afghanistan

    Executive Summary Nearly 20 years after U.S. forces overturned Taliban rule in Afghanistan, the fundamentalist Islamist movement is back in power. This follows the U.S. troop ...

    By Lisa Curtis

  • Congressional Testimony
    • January 19, 2022
    The Strategic Importance of a U.S. Digital Trade Agreement in the Indo-Pacific

    Chairman Bera, Ranking Member Chabot, and the other distinguished Subcommittee Members: I appreciate this opportunity to speak with you about digital trade with the Indo-Pacif...

    By David Feith

  • Commentary
    • Foreign Affairs
    • January 14, 2022
    Washington’s Missing China Strategy

    The Biden administration has repeatedly identified China as the United States’ foremost foreign policy challenge. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has referred to China as th...

    By Richard Fontaine

  • Video
    • January 13, 2022
    No Progress Seen After Russia-U.S. Talks Over Ukraine Tensions

    The United States and Russia locked horns over Ukraine and other security issues Monday with no sign of progress from either side at highly anticipated strategic talks. Andre...

    By Andrea Kendall-Taylor

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia