North Korea is a nuclear weapons power, and even though Kim Jong Un signed his name onto three declarations this year pledging “denuclearization”—two with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and one with U.S. President Donald Trump—there’s no indication that he will give up his nuclear capability any time soon. He sees nuclear weapons as essential to his regime’s survival and, ultimately, his security. North Korea’s de facto head of state, Kim Yong Nam, has suggested that nuclear capabilities—the country’s “treasured sword”—may be crucial to the country’s economy, as well: he describes them as enabling rather than inhibiting economic development.
Washington needs to accept that North Korea will remain a nuclear power for the foreseeable future and manage the situation accordingly. For 70 years, the U.S.-South Korean alliance successfully sustained deterrence on the Korean Peninsula, preventing the resumption of hostilities after the 1953 armistice put an end to the Korean War. Now the task will be to build and maintain a stable deterrent relationship with a nuclear-armed North Korea, a perennially insecure state with a fundamentally distrustful attitude toward the United States.
The new reality of North Korea’s capabilities—including
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