1. Update
  2. Nuclear Weapons

Keeping Faith in Diplomacy with North Korea

By Anthony Wier, May 22, 2018


Truth be told, the past few days have worried me too. I had been encouraged this spring to see South Korea’s diplomacy open new possibilities. As someone who has focused a career on nuclear proliferation, I was happy to express my thanks and praise when President Trump embraced direct engagement to deal with North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

It comes as no great surprise that, as the June 12 summit between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump approaches, both sides are now ratcheting up their rhetorical and diplomatic maneuvering.

White House National Security Advisor John Bolton began publicly suggesting that the litmus test for judging diplomacy with North Korea was whether it quickly matched former Libyan dictator Muammar Gadhafi’s efforts to abandon its much more limited chemical, missile, and nuclear enrichment programs.

The North Koreans, for their part, focus on the subsequent fate of Gadhafi: murder at the hands of U.S.-aided Libyan rebels. After Bolton’s public comments, North Korea denounced the planned participation of U.S. B-52 bombers in a joint U.S.-South Korean military exercise. North Korea stayed away from a previously planned meeting with South Korea, and even hinted at withdrawing from the June 12 Singapore summit. Its vice foreign minister lashed out against notions of forcing North Korea into “unilateral nuclear abandonment.”

South Korean President Moon Jae-In’s clear-eyed refusal to consider war in Korea has almost single-handedly driven this new peace effort forward.

On May 21, South Korean President Moon Jae-in met in Washington with President Trump to keep the two allies in sync. Moon’s clear-eyed refusal to consider war in Korea as an acceptable policy approach has, in my view, almost single-handedly driven this new peace effort forward. South Korea clearly intends to push ahead with serious diplomacy. The United States should stride shoulder-to-shoulder with it.

We have said all along that real diplomacy involves give and take. Obstacles overcome by breakthroughs are replaced with still more roadblocks. Diplomacy, as we repeatedly say, is a marathon not a sprint.

Successful marathoners always remember their nutrition strategy, their plan to sustain themselves when the race gets long, tiring, and painful.

As FCNL’s Amelia Kegan reminded those gathered at FCNL’s 2017 Annual Meeting, successful marathoners always remember their nutrition strategy, their plan to sustain themselves when the race gets long, tiring, and painful.

As nuclear diplomacy with North Korea hits its first real bumps since the good feelings of the spring, I am sustained by confidence in this basic truth: Diplomacy and peacebuilding may have their risks, but only they hold a chance of opening a way to a better tomorrow.

Evidence and reason fuel this belief, not just blind faith. The world must pursue diplomacy because we have seen how the path of war always belies false pre-war promises and always produces worse than anticipated consequences. Our nation must match the diplomatic efforts of our ally for the fundamental reason that the choice of war on the Korean Peninsula would bring far greater death and devastation, and would last far longer, than whatever scenario one cares to imagine.

Pyongyang has now reminded Washington that the June 12 summit and what follows will still be a tough negotiation.

Pyongyang has now reminded Washington that the June 12 summit and what follows will still be a tough negotiation—not an American attendance at a North Korean surrender ceremony. One can dare to hope that the situation could in fact get better while still accepting this reality.

We must keep faith that diplomacy can and will work if countries truly invest in it.

Anthony Wier

  • Legislative Secretary, Nuclear Disarmament and Pentagon Spending

Anthony is our lead lobbyist and the director of FCNL's work on nuclear weapons policy and is the key team leader working on our efforts to rein in Pentagon spending. He is also responsible for maintaining FCNL’s Nuclear Calendar and for representing FCNL with the various coalitions that work on these issues.