Foreign Policy

Pompeo’s On the Right Track with North Korea Negotiations

Mike Pompeo’s move to invite North Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs to DC is in line with the views of Americans and South Koreans.

September 25, 2018

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said he’s invited North Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Ring Yong-ho to Washington, DC. The two reportedly will meet this week with the goal of denuclearizing North Korea by January 2021 (conveniently, the last month of President Donald Trump’s current term).

Nine months after the president, in response to comments by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, referred on Twitter to the “powerful” nuclear button sitting on his desk, this effort at diplomacy is heartening, and will be supported by the American people and the citizens of South Korea, who are sitting directly in harm’s way.

This past June with RealClearPolitics, the Charles Koch Institute undertook a first-of-its kind survey of American and South Korean citizens to gauge their feelings about the North Korean threat, and how their respective government leaders should handle it.

Although the survey found opinions differed between Americans and South Koreans on a few key questions, respondents from both countries overwhelming agreed that military action is not a desirable solution. Constituents of both countries want diplomatic negotiations to continue, even if they don’t produce agreement right away.

Indeed, most respondents expect a breakthrough will take some time. Americans are skeptical that diplomatic talks will lead to denuclearization within five years. And while nearly half of South Koreans (46 percent) were optimistic about the chances for denuclearization, only 31 percent of Americans felt the same.

Yet when asked what the best path forward for their respective country when it came to North Korea, only 8 percent of Americans and 8 percent of South Koreans said the best course of action was to invade North Korea with ground forces. More removed, sterile strikes weren’t more appealing. Only 11 percent of Americans and 8 percent of South Koreans said they wanted to conduct bombing against Kim’s regime.

In contrast, 69 percent of Americans said continuing diplomatic relations is the right course of action. More than half of South Koreans—55 percent—said so. Having just finishing his third summit this year with Kim last week, South Korean President Moon Jae-in appears to be listening to his constituents.

The citizens of South Korea and the United States also are willing to be patient.

When asked what they thought the best path would be if North Korea doesn’t wind down its nuclear program, still only 13 percent of Americans and 10 percent of South Koreans said the best course of action would be to use ground forces. Again, air strikes weren’t much more popular. Only 17 percent of Americans and 11 percent of South Koreans said they wanted bombing under this scenario. Diplomacy, on the other hand, still was the preferred path with 62 percent of Americans and 55 percent of South Koreans saying talks should continue in this case.

Korea experts agree with the American and South Korean people. The day before the Trump-Kim June summit in Singapore, two of the United States’ top Korea experts, Victor Cha from Georgetown University and David Kang from the University of Southern California, said preventive war would be the worst-case scenario of military actions that the United States could take against North Korea. Kang said, “ true preventive war… I think is incredibly dangerous. We can lob a hundred missiles at Syria, because they can’t really do anything to us. North Korea can kill U.S. citizens today.”

Kang and Cha both said a conflict would have high costs and a very low chance of success.

Americans and South Koreans want a peaceful approach to North Korea. They don’t want the American president to have an itchy trigger finger with the nuclear button so close at hand (and refraining from making this threat via the Twitter button might be popular as well).