Since the end of the Cold War, paradox has characterized the United States’ perception of North Korea. Pyongyang is at once a constant threat and a continual joke, its leaders a source of as much fear for the American public as derision. North Korea’s missile and nuclear program is presented simultaneously as a dangerous example of the failure of nonproliferation regimes and as a duct-tape-and-bailing-wire operation, notwithstanding the flurry of missile tests and accomplishments that Pyongyang has touted recently.
Yet the dual view of North Korea as fearsome and farcical — as a present danger and a recalcitrant remnant of a bygone era — endures. More and more, this contradictory assessment seems to reflect the lack of viable options that Washington has for dealing with Pyongyang. Despite the power disparity between the United States and North Korea, Washington has little ability to alter Pyongyang’s behavior without accepting significant political or military repercussions in return.
And because of this disparity, North Korea does not feel that it can abandon its nuclear and missile program and still be secure from the United States’ whims. Each side has its own viewpoint and its own legitimate concerns, making compromise difficult if not impossible. Herein lies one of the dirty secrets of international relations: Rarely do countries achieve all their imperatives, and when interests clash, the solution is often managing the reality, not resolving the conflict. Read full Forbes article