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How should the United States respond to North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear capabilities? Some experts suggest the upcoming summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un might provide a pivotal diplomatic opportunity to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons – especially in light of the announcement of harsh new sanctions. But others are more pessimistic, arguing that we’ve been down this road before and that denuclearizing North Korea is more of a pipedream than a legitimate strategic goal. Can Trump and Kim strike a deal to halt North Korea’s nuclear aggression? Or will the talks inevitably fail, heightening tensions and increasing the likelihood of fatal miscalculations? Presented in partnership with Georgetown University, presented LIVE at the first Georgetown University Women’s Forum.View Debate Page
- Senior Fellow, New America & U.S.-DPRK Dialogue Director
Suzanne DiMaggio argues, “Despite all these concerns, I must give President Trump credit in taking a bold step toward diplomacy. I think it’s a welcome turn of events, given the daily cycle of escalation and hot rhetoric we have been witnessing between Washington and Pyongyang over the past months, including a lot of talk about war, military options.”
Suzanne DiMaggio argues, “The goal is to pressure bad actors to change their policy, and we haven't seen that yet. So exerting increasing pressure through sanctions will only be effective if it's part of a larger strategy.”
“David Greene talks to Suzanne DiMaggio, a senior fellow at the think tank New America, about North Korea. In May, she facilitated informal talks, known as Track II diplomacy, with North Korea.”
“While determined to pursue a nuclear arsenal to defend their country, the North Koreans say they are also open to discussing how to avoid a disastrous confrontation.”
Suzanne DiMaggio argues, “What’s interesting, as we wrote about recently, is very early on, the North Koreans conveyed that they saw a new administration as a potential fresh start.”
“DiMaggio says there's no question that diplomacy remains viable.”
Suzanne DiMaggio argues we could see a potential breakthrough with the upcoming summit.
“We were quickly heading down the road to a possible military confrontation with the North Koreans. And a major step toward diplomacy is a most welcome turn of events.”
“Since 2015, DiMaggio has led a private initiative involving former US and European officials and diplomats to meet with North Korean officials to discuss peace and security issues.”
- Nonresident Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution & Former Ambassador, U.S. State Department
Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins discusses the Nuclear Posture Review and the global goal of nonproliferation.
“With the current relationship between North Korea and the United States at a tipping point, maybe the time is right to consider how the international community can bring forth new perspectives and approaches to the stalemate.”
“At the end of the day, while diplomacy certainly has its challenges, there is little appetite in the international community for military action against the DPRK. Diplomacy must be given a chance.”
Bonnie Jenkins supports multilateral talks with North Korea.
Bonnie Jenkins explains her role with the State Department.
Bonnie Jenkins explains her role with the State Department.
Sue Mi Terry
- Former CIA Analyst & Senior Fellow, CSIS
“The long-term benefits of North Korea’s collapse, both strategic and economic, far outweigh the short-term costs.”
“Engaging with the Kim regime prematurely is not likely to either denuclearization, a goal the U.S. should not abandon, or, in the long run, peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula.”
Sue Mi Terry argues that Kim Jung-un wants reunification on the North’s terms.
“As former Central Intelligence Agency analysts, with combined 45 years of experience in studying the North Korean regime, we believe that any military strike against North Korea is likely to unleash a series of events that could lead to devastation and massive casualties as well as undermine Washington’s ‘maximum pressure and engagement’ strategy.”
Sue Mi Terry argues that it is “significant that Kim [Jong-un] spoke not of removing nuclear weapons from North Korea, but rather of the ‘denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,’ as a whole. That formulation by the Kim government is ‘not new.’”
“North Korea’s call for a peace treaty is not, in any case, intended to achieve an effective and lasting peace mechanism to replace the Armistice Agreement but simply to facilitate a negotiation process that would lead to the pullout of U.S. troops from South Korea and an end to the U.S.-ROK alliance.”
Sue Mi Terry argues that Kim Jung-un will see through his nuclear program and believes that containment, determent, and pressure should be the U.S. strategy.
Sue Ni Terry advocates for harsher sanctions against North Korea and asks even if Kim Jung-un agrees to denuclearize, how can the U.S. possibly verify that?
Sue Mi Terry says North Korea denuclearization is “completely off the table.”
Sue Mi Terry says U.S.-North Korea talks are a pretty big deal, but she cautions against expecting that they will lead to a resolution anytime soon.
“The implied threat was clear: If the United States were to use military force against North Korea, Pyongyang would retaliate, potentially leading to hundreds of thousands or millions of casualties.”
“Dr. Terry joins CSIS after a long and accomplished career in intelligence, policymaking, and academia following Korean issues.”
- Senior Scholar, Yale Law School & China Center
“Now that Kim has acquired nuclear weapons, a first strike by America against his regime should be a total non-starter.”
Mira Rapp-Hooper argues, “There is very little chance that we are ever going to talk this guy out of his [nuclear] weapons, and none of us who have been watching the situation closely for years really thought we were going to.”
“There is still an obvious impediment to talks: The United States continues to insist that North Korea must come to the negotiating table prepared to denuclearize. There is almost no chance that North Korea intends to give up its nuclear weapons, and therefore will not negotiate to this end.”
Mira Rapp-Hooper reflects on data surrounding nuclear weapons and North Korea.
“If the United States intends to contain and deter North Korea — there is little chance of doing much else at this stage — competent alliance management is essential.”
“[The] gruesome end to Qaddafi's rule has likely confirmed what Kim Jong Il must have long been aware -- a dictator who wants to hold on to power should also hold onto his nuclear weapons.”
“For the United States, ‘denuclearization’ is the North giving up nuclear weapons; for North Korea, it may mean an arms control agreement in which the two sides bargain over each other’s force levels.”
“The time to stop North Korea from acquiring sophisticated nuclear weapons and missiles passed years ago and cannot be recouped.”
“Any sound US policy must start by acknowledging– whether just privately or also publicly– the political realities of North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities. Kim Jong Un has given no indication that he is looking to bargain these capabilities away. He intends to hold on to them, and there are no good options for taking them away.”
A brief account of U.S.-North Korea relations going back to World War II and the Korean War.
An overview of the worsening North Korean threat.
“North Korea claims that it can mount miniaturised nuclear warheads on its missiles, but these claims have not been independently verified.”
“Since the early 1990s, successive U.S. Presidents have faced the question of whether to negotiate with the North Korean government to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear program and ambitions.”
“Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the United States now has 450 sanctions against North Korea, half of which have come in the last year.”
“The North has been accused of using false paperwork to continue coal exports and of importing oil through illegal ship-to-ship transfers on the high seas.”
“John Bolton, U.S. President Donald Trump’s new national security adviser, said Trump should insist that any meeting he holds with North Korea’s leader must be focused squarely on how to eliminate that country’s nuclear weapons program as quickly as possible.”
For Mike Pompeo, the goal is the “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of North Korea.”
“Pompeo returned to Washington with enough assurance that North Korea was prepared to negotiate over the future of its nuclear weapons program that the White House decided summit talks were worthwhile, according to the people familiar with the meeting.”
“What does ‘denuclearization’ mean? It depends on whom you are asking.”
For the Motion
“A comprehensive coercive strategy for denuclearization diplomacy would build on the strengths of the maximum-pressure campaign while more fully leveraging the support and resources of regional allies and partners in pursuing shared long-term goals.”
“Trump carries no historical baggage, and his decisiveness, even if rooted in impulsiveness, could provide the necessary breakthrough to overcome decades of accumulated inertia.”
“North Korea’s system might look bizarre to us from the outside, but the Kims are the ultimate political survivors, hard-edged rationalists whose actions have always had a clear purpose: keeping the family in power. Seeing them as madmen is not only wrong, but also dangerous.”
“The United States has an array of ways to ratchet up pressure on China to force North Korea to denuclearize — ranging from tougher trade sanctions to denying visas to thousands of Chinese students and property holders.”
Gen. McMaster argues, “If North Korea has a nuclear weapon, who are you going to try to prevent getting one? Look at the regime, the hostility of this regime to the whole world.”
“In his New Year’s speech, Kim openly signaled that harder times were coming. If China, his largest trading partner, holds firm, Kim faces looming constraints in the form of declining access to much-needed foreign exchange.”
Against the Motion
“What should Trump do after seven decades of North Korean aggression? Ratchet up the embargo of North Korea. Do not give it any aid — no matter the pleas and threats. Put more pressure on China. Do not barter with Pyongyang until it is proven that it has no more nukes.”
“Trump may picture himself a master negotiator, but off-the-cuff proposals from a candidate who did not understand the nuclear triad and continues to disdain details can mean strategic disaster for the United States and its allies.”
“No state that has developed nuclear weapons has been willing to part with them. Pyongyang certainly won’t be the first to do so.”
“The prospects for any diplomatic breakthrough are clouded by senior State Department vacancies, including a permanent U.S. ambassador to South Korea.”
“Here’s where the nukes come into play. Pyongyang believes they’re the best, and possibly only, deterrent against evaporation, absorption, or annihilation.”
“The value of the North Korean currency, the won, has been steady … So, too, the prices for basics such as rice and corn.”
In the Neighborhood
“China is North Korea’s biggest trade partner and arguably has the most leverage on Kim Jong-un’s regime. But while Beijing appears willing to condemn its neighbor’s nuclear developments, analysts say its cautious policies remain focused on stability.”
“While the visit provides benefits going forward for Pyongyang, the big winner here is China.”
“For South Korea, removing nuclear weapons from the peninsula and striking a deal for ‘eternal’ peace ‘is what everyone has dreamed of, but hasn’t accomplished yet.’”
“Mr Kim became the first North Korean president to watch a performance by artists from the South.”
“A North Korea that shrivels under harsh sanctions is not an acceptable option for Moscow. To allow such a scenario would be to admit its own vulnerability to similar measures.”
“From Tokyo’s perspective, the problem on the Korean Peninsula is not simply that Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile capabilities are growing; it is also that Kim blatantly desires to demonstrate those capabilities, and to do so at the expense of Japanese security.”
“Kim may genuinely want to mend relations with Washington in order to improve the livelihoods of his 25 million subjects, and … Kim might agree to denuclearize in exchange for a mutual defense treaty signed by Pyongyang’s four influential neighbors–Russia, China, South Korea and Japan–that’s ratified by the U.N. and also passed by an act of Congress and signed by Trump.”
“North Korea is what we at the CIA called ‘the hardest of the hard targets.’ A former CIA analyst once said that trying to understand North Korea is like working on a ‘jigsaw puzzle when you have a mere handful of pieces and your opponent is purposely throwing pieces from other puzzles into the box.’”
Preemptive Strike & Prospects of War
“Given the gaps in U.S. intelligence about North Korea, we should not wait until the very last minute. That would risk striking after the North has deliverable nuclear weapons, a much more dangerous situation.”
“There is a reason that, even as North Korea’s weapons programs have passed red line after red line, the United States has never followed through. Almost any plan would bring a high risk of unintended escalation to all-out war, analysts believe.”
“There is a genuine risk of a war on the Korean Peninsula that would involve the use of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. Several estimated that millions — plural — would die.”
What happens if the North Korean regime – or government – collapses? And what happens to its nuclear arsenal?
Inside North Korea
Nicholas Kristof and Carol Giacomo go inside North Korea and interview students, civilians and government and military officials.
“As tensions between North Korea and the U.S. mount, curiosity about what life is like there has increased.”
“Around 700 U.S. and Korean soldiers are stationed at the area. Nearby is the small farming village of Taesung, with less than 200 people — the only South Korean settlement inside the DMZ and 500 yards from the border. On the other side is the North Korean village of Kijong, a largely uninhabited scattering of buildings that often blares propaganda speeches and patriotic songs.”
Suki Kim’s “perspective is valuable and rare; few Americans have spent much time on the ground there.”
Suki Kim talks about living and working undercover in North Korea for six months.
“Suki Kim describes going undercover to teach at a private school in North Korea in her book ‘Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite.’”
“For the regime, good looks are just another asset that citizens are obliged to wield on behalf of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea — no surprise there.”
Suki Kim argues, “People so easily compare North Korea to Cuba or East Germany or even China. But none of them have been like North Korea – this amount of isolation, this amount of control. It encompasses every aspect of dictatorship-slash-cult.”
Suki Kim argues, “Kim Jong Un’s reign of terror suggests an escalating paranoia, which goes hand in hand with the fear at the root of North Korean society.”
“[Suki] Kim clearly believes the good knowledge can do outweighs the risk. Her memoir, if nothing else, is a reminder of the costs of such work. Her portraits of her students are tender and heartbreaking, highlighting the enormity of what is at stake.”
“‘The Interpreter” is one of those titles, much like ‘The Stranger’ or ‘The Passenger,’ that immediately connote a state of moody suspension.”