Bennett Ramberg: Why We Need Détente With North Korea





Bennett Ramberg served as a policy analyst in the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs in the George H.W. Bush Administration and is the author of several books on international politics.

Whatever Kim Jong-Il’s death meant for the people of North Korea, it did not change the fundamental strategic interest that the United States has in the country. The paramount issue for Washington remains assuring that Pyongyang never uses its nuclear arsenal, and that it never leaks or gifts its weapons material and technology to other nations or terrorists.

But if Washington’s basic strategic posture remains, it should consider revising its current non-proliferation policies in the wake of Pyongyang’s change of leadership. After all, the West’s efforts until now have not been borne fruit. Now is the time to try an untrodden, but potentially promising path: Washington should concede that North Korea has beaten nonproliferation roadblocks and focus instead on forestalling our worst nuclear fears by normalizing relations with Pyongyang. America’s embrace of a rising nuclear bête noire of a much earlier era, Mao’s China, provides a template.

First, some background. North Korea’s commitment to the bomb grew out of events nearly a half century ago, the Cuban missile crisis. For most, the nearly-disastrous brinksmanship marked a sobering reminder of the risks of the nuclear age. For Pyongyang, however, Moscow’s retreat from Cuba demonstrated the peril of relying on others for security. The North Korean regime determined that developing nuclear weapons of its own could help it achieve self-sufficiency in national security. Nearly five decades later, Pyongyang tested two nuclear devices...



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