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There’s still time for diplomacy in Korea

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Amid ever-heightening tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, there are finally some positive diplomatic signals. On Jan. 3, Pyongyang reopened a long-closed border hotline with South Korea – one day after Seoul proposed bilateral negotiations and two days after Kim Jong Un said in his New Year address that he was open to speaking with the South.

Yet when asked about this possible breakthrough, United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley threw cold water on the whole idea: “We won’t take any of the talk seriously if they don't do something to ban all nuclear weapons in North Korea.”

Haley’s statement is as clear an articulation of the Trump administration’s foreign policy as you can get: Diplomacy is a waste of time; we will only talk to adversaries after they unilaterally capitulate and obey all our commands. The problem is that this approach is rarely effective. Sure, sometimes diplomacy fails, but more often than not, blustery intimidation elicits nothing but bluster and resistance in return.

Consider Washington’s post-World War Two approach to the Soviet Union. According to the historian Melvyn P. Leffler, there was “nearly universal agreement” in the military and intelligence communities that the Soviet Union, though expansionist, “was by no means uniformly hostile or unwilling to negotiate with the United States.” Yet, in contrast to the internal consensus, Leffler cites U.S. officials increasingly depicting Moscow as "constitutionally incapable of being conciliated" and hell-bent on “world domination.”

In July 1947, a War Department intelligence report found the Truman administration’s more confrontational approach “tend to magnify the significance of conflicting points of view,........

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