North Korea has been in a conciliatory mood recently, suggesting a summit with South Korean President Park Geun-hye. Pyongyang also indicated that it would suspend nuclear tests if the United States cancelled joint military exercises with the South.
The United States refused and went ahead with the naval maneuvers. In fact, the Obama administration recently expanded sanctions on North Korea in response to the Kim regime’s apparent hacking of Sony pictures. Alas, past experience suggests the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea likely will respond with new provocations, perhaps another nuclear test.
Frustration with the Kim regime led retired Gen. John Macdonald to propose turning the movie ‘The Interview’ into reality: “We’ve got to do something.”
Since Pyongyang hasn’t changed its behavior, the United States should try a different approach, but not an assassination attempt on Kim Jong-un. Washington should start by dropping the annual military exercise and reducing America’s military presence. The administration also should develop a comprehensive engagement plan for North Korea.
Obviously, there’s no guarantee that engagement would yield a more positive result. However, the People’s Republic of China’s growing frustration with the younger Kim provides an unexpected opportunity for Washington.
So far, Beijing has proved unwilling to apply significant pressure on the DPRK lest the result be a messy collapse with advantage to a united Korea allied with America. But China has tired of the antics of its irresponsible neighbor, especially the latter’s nuclear weapons program.
The PRC nevertheless remains reluctant to cooperate with Washington unless the United States reduces the perceived threat to North Korea. The United States should express its willingness to negotiate with the North, and even create a low-key diplomatic presence, such as a small consular office. As I point out in National Interest: “Whatever the North’s response, the U.S. would gain a useful window into a mysterious political system and provide the Kim regime with something to lose for bad behavior.”