South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s meeting with North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un on September 18-20 culminated in the signing of the Pyongyang Declaration, which marked a significant advance towards peace and heralded a welcome warming in relations. Since that time, however, contradictions within the Trump administration’s North Korea policy threaten to forestall further progress and test the patience of its South Korean ally.
Q: President Donald Trump put North Korea back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, a designation that allows the United States to impose more sanctions and risks inflaming tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and missile programs. How could Trump‘s policy affect China‘s and Russia‘s ties to Pyongyang? What effect will this have on North Korea?
Diplomacy never had a chance. It was not long after President Trump took office that he signed a directive establishing a North Korea policy based on overtly hostile measures. The Treasury Department was told to implement a series of sanctions against North Korea and those who traded with it. U.S. diplomats were instructed to exhort foreign officials in nearly every meeting to break off contacts with North Korea. That program has been accelerating in recent weeks, with far reaching consequences.
Amid renewed talk by the Trump administration of a military option against North Korea, one salient fact goes unnoticed. The United States is already at war with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK – the formal name for North Korea). It is doing so through non-military means, with the aim of inducing economic collapse. In a sense, the policy is a continuation of the Obama administration’s ‘strategic patience’ on steroids, in that it couples a refusal to engage in diplomacy with the piling on of sanctions that constitute collective punishment of the entire North Korean population.