The consequences of previous deceit are most evident in the ongoing effort to achieve a diplomatic solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis. During his recent trip to East Asia, President Trump urged Kim Jong-un’s regime to “come to the negotiating table” and “do the right thing”—relinquish the country’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Presumably, that concession would lead to a lifting (or at least an easing) of international economic sanctions and a more normal relationship between Pyongyang and the international community.
Unfortunately, North Korean leaders have abundant reasons to be wary of such U.S. enticements. Trump’s transparent attempt to renege on Washington’s commitment to the deal with Iran known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—which the United States and other major powers signed in 2015 to curb Tehran’s nuclear program—certainly does not increase Pyongyang’s incentive to sign a similar agreement. His decision to decertify Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA, even when the United Nations confirms that Tehran is adhering to its obligations, appears more than a little disingenuous.
North Korea is likely focused on another incident that raises even greater doubts about U.S. credibility. Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi capitulated on the nuclear issue in December of 2003, abandoning his country’s nuclear program and reiterating a commitment to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. In exchange, the United States and its allies lifted economic sanctions and welcomed Libya back into the community of respectable nations. Barely seven years later, though, Washington and its NATO partners double‐crossed Qaddafi, launching airstrikes and cruise missile attacks to assist rebels in their campaign to overthrow the Libyan strongman. North Korea and other powers took notice of Qaddafi’s fate, making the already difficult task of getting a de‐nuclearization agreement with Pyongyang nearly impossible.
The Libya intervention sullied America’s reputation in another way. Washington and its NATO allies prevailed on the UN Security Council to pass a resolution endorsing a military intervention to protect innocent civilians. Russia and China refrained from vetoing that resolution after Washington’s assurances that military action would be limited in scope and solely for humanitarian purposes. Once the assault began, it quickly became evident that the resolution was merely a fig leaf for another U.S.-led regime‐change war.
Beijing, and especially Moscow, understandably felt duped. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates succinctly described Russia’s reaction, both short‐term and long‐term: