What happens with North Korea after the Olympics?

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With the eyes of the world turning toward the Korean peninsula for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, North Korea remains a hot topic in international affairs. It was a special focus of President Trump’s State of the Union; the White House recently pulled its choice for Ambassador to South Korea very late in the process for allegedly not being hawkish enough towards Pyongyang; and there is continuing conversation about whether the United States will attempt a “bloody nose” strike against North Korea.

The Olympic Games may provide a pause in the diplomatic row between North Korea and the United States over the former’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, but what is likely to happen once the Olympic torch is extinguished on February 25th? Will we return to what we had before—heated rhetoric and dangerous saber-rattling? Or worse, will the United States attempt to break the impasse through military action?

Prediction is a fool’s errand, but the best guide to understanding what the future might hold for any international relationship is to look at the core interests of the states in question and how those interests interact. This view suggests we are in for some bumpy times ahead. There is always going to be strife, and even threat of war, so long as two conditions are present: the Kim regime considers nuclear weapons (and the means to deliver them) vital to its survival and the United States believes it cannot live with a nuclear North Korea (and rely on deterrence to keep us safe).

This article is part of series from the Charles Koch Foundation, which believes everyone has the ability to learn, contribute, and succeed provided they have the freedom and opportunity to do so. For more in this series, see — Why America Should Improve Its Own Democracy before Spreading Democracy Globally

This picture taken and released on July 4, 2017 by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows the test-fire of the intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 at an undisclosed location. North Korea declared on July 4 it had successfully tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile — a watershed moment in its push to develop a nuclear weapon capable of hitting the mainland United States. (AFP PHOTO / KCNA VIA KNS)

Kim Jong Un has few good cards in his hand, but nuclear weapons are trump cards making it much harder for any country to attempt Kim’s ouster. He’s surrounded by richer and stronger neighbors while facing the hostility of the globe’s superpower. He needs those weapons.

Thus, North Korea simply is not going to denuclearize peacefully, regardless of whether this is the goal of American policy. That is not going to happen. North Korea witnessed what happened to leaders in Iraq and Libya when they ran afoul of the United States but did not have the means to punch back…

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