The election of Donald Trump who, in spite of his hard-living tendencies, has been talking about meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for hamburgers, led to an increase in talks about a deal between Pyongyang and Washington.
Nonetheless, as somebody who has dealt with North Korea for some 30 years, I have a rather pessimistic, if realistic, answer to the perennial question: "What could bring about a solution to the North Korean nuclear problem?" My answer is simple: If by ‘solution' one means ‘complete denuclearization of North Korea,' nothing short of a military strike or a revolution in Pyongyang.
Decades of experience has demonstrated neither sanctions nor negotiations will work. Both have been tried, and both failed, in rather spectacular fashion.
North Korean decision makers see nuclear weapons as their only security guarantee, an absolute deterrent, an infallible defense against would-be attackers. It means not only insulation from a foreign attack, but also increases the chances of surviving a major domestic crisis. The assumption is that nuclear weapons afford the Kim family and their supporters the opportunity to deal with a local rebellion, should it happen, in a harsh way, without bothering with nonsense such as ‘no-fly-zones' and the like.
Recent events have demonstrated to Pyongyang that nuclear weapons are, indeed, the only guarantee of regime security. Muammar Gaddafi was the only strongman in recent history who agreed to swap his country's nuclear weapons program for promises of economic advantages — and got killed because he was too credulous. North Korea believes Western powers would have been less likely to support the local anti-Gaddafi forces had he maintained his arsenal. Without foreign assistance it's less clear if the rebels would have been victorious.
Thus, the North Korean leadership believes nuclear deterrence is the only thing that might keep them in power and alive. They are not going to do what Gaddafi did, partially because they do not believe Western promises anyway, and partially because the economic growth and well-being of the population is much lower on their agenda than regime survival.
But is it possible, as many argue today, to use sanctions to create........