Updated on November 28 at 2:00 p.m. ET.
Joseph Yun, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea policy, remarked on October 30 that 60 days without North Korean missile tests would signal to the United States that North Korea is ready to take diplomacy seriously. On Tuesday, North Korea broke a stretch of more than 70 days without testing a missile—the previous test came on September 15. In the interim, even Secretary of Defense James Mattis said he was open to talks. Pro-Trump hawks said the deliberately heightened tensions from the U.S. policy of “maximum pressure” was bearing fruit. Pro-engagement doves said Pyongyang’s quiet was a sign of its flexibility, and urged the United States to reciprocate. Both perspectives were misguided. It’s now clear the crisis wasn’t averted.
North Korea’s relative silence the past two months was a false positive; reading it as a signal from Pyongyang ignored both the logic of the situation and what North Korea has stated publicly.
North Korea has no interest in denuclearization, and especially not in the “comprehensive, verifiable, and irreversible” formulation (known as “CVID” in wonk parlance) that the United States has long demanded. North Korea will return to diplomacy when it believes it has secured the ability to reliably strike U.S. territory with a nuclear-armed missile, but only if the topic of conversation is decidedly unrelated to denuclearization. North Korea declared the Six-Party Talks to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula “dead” in 2008, and has done so repeatedly since. Yet the United States persists in the myth that their resumption is possible.