State Department spokesman Ned Price answered a question on North Korea diplomacy today, and his answer unwittingly demonstrated the folly of the US approach:
On your first question, it unfortunately is a purely hypothetical question. It’s an academic question, because we have been clear and consistent in conveying publicly and through all channels available to us that we are prepared and willing to engage in constructive diplomacy with the DPRK towards what is the goal we share with our allies and partners of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula [bold mine-DL]. And I say it’s hypothetical and academic because at every turn the DPRK has failed to engage meaningfully on these offers. But were that to be the case, were the DPRK to take us up on this, we would look to see if we could devise practical steps that could help to advance what is that longer-term objective of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
The goal of the complete denuclearization of the peninsula is at odds with engaging in constructive diplomacy with North Korea. As long as this remains the goal of US policy, there is not going to be constructive diplomacy. When “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” means nothing more than North Korea’s unilateral disarmament, North Korea isn’t going to “engage meaningfully” with a demand for its own capitulation. Of course North Korea has “failed to engage,” because they have no incentive to entertain the terms that the US has set.
Their government isn’t going to engage in a process where the end result is the dismantling of an arsenal that they have spent almost two decades building up. The US and its allies can acknowledge this reality and adjust their goals accordingly, or they can sit back and watch as North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and missile program continue to advance and expand. If the US and its allies want a different outcome, they will have to change what they have been doing and modify their demands.
Biden administration officials love to say that “the ball is in their court” when talking about their inability to make any diplomatic progress with other governments. The Biden administration took this line with North Korea early on, and it is not a coincidence that ever since then North Korea has continued building up its forces and testing its missiles in record numbers. Saying that “the ball is in their court” lets the administration pretend that the deteriorating situation is entirely the fault of the other party. It is how they excuse their own lamentable neglect of the issue. This passivity and unwillingness to take the initiative are debilitating for US diplomacy, and it is no wonder that the US has so few major diplomatic achievements in recent years.
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Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.