Skip to content
Subscriber Only
James Stavridis

The Path Forward With North Korea: ‘Denuclearization Lite’

Allowing Kim to keep a few warheads and missiles, separately and under inspection, is something the world could live with.

Getting to yes?

Getting to yes?

Photographer: Dong-A Ilbo via Getty Images)

Over the past couple of weeks, there have been increasing signs that the Trump administration – and particularly the president himself – is moderating its position on North Korea’s stockpile of nuclear weapons. Gone are the adamant statements that the U.S. will only accept complete, immediate and irreversible denuclearization. Instead, we’ve seen a symbolic but historic meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un at the Demilitarized Zone, more flattering rhetoric about the North Korean dictator – the president calling the meeting “an honor” - and hints that the U.S. could accept a longer timeline in the movement toward denuclearization. What has caused this shift?  And, just as importantly, would it work in military terms?

The short answer to the first question is simple: reality. No serious observer of the Korean situation in general and Kim in particular would bet that the impetuous young leader would ever willingly surrender his nuclear weapons. They are obviously his best guarantee against U.S.-imposed regime change. As the certainty of this has sunk in for the Trump team, they are seeking another path to a demonstrable foreign policy “win” that can be touted in the run-up to the 2020 election.