Many experts propose that it is not practically possible (without engaging in war and endangering the lives of many civilians, in both US and ally territory) to prevent North Korea from building nuclear weapons.

Given that, why does the US not just accept that, and attempt to mend relationships? Instead, we have Trump issuing threats and refusing any sort of diplomatic approach.

What is the point of this, and why does the US not just accept the situation, when they can't do anything about it?

  • 46
    Not that I try to say Trump is taking the correct road, but your approach is too easy to work. Easy visualization of you becoming president. You try to negotiate with north Korea to stay calm and convince them to not feel threatened by you. So they respond "All the interaction in our country and with south Korea is a preparation of invasion, stop it and we are fine" So what you do? pretend to consent? making it worse when revealed. agreeing? Would piss of south Korea and some other allies, and leave NK free hand for what ever their plans. Or rejecting? Leaving us where we are.
    – dhein
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 12:46
  • 31
    @ChristianGeiselmann North Korea has invaded South Korea before, and shown signs of wanting to invade again. There's no reason to believe that they still don't want to reunite Korea by force, nor that they wouldn't see nuclear weapons as means to prevent the US and China from stopping them.
    – Ross Ridge
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 14:29
  • 21
    "...why does the US not just accept the situation, when they can't do anything about it?" Probably they can do something about it. Maybe together with China, Russia, Japan, South Korea they could all sit together and decide what to do with North Korea. So I guess the premise of this question is somewhat debatable. Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 14:33
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    @DinoSoru "This is how grownups solve issues." - and is therefore usually irrelevant to discussions about US politics, whether national or international.
    – alephzero
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 11:21
  • 17
    The question assumes that all of the friction is only because North Korea has pursued nukes. Their overall behavior goes beyond that. Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 15:43

19 Answers 19


From the USA point of view there are two types of arguments. The first ones are those that state that the fewer nuclear capable countries there are, the better1:

  • Fewer nuclear warheads at risk of being captured/sold to rogue actors.

  • Non-nuclear countries are less of a worry if they become unstable.

  • Every foreign country, no matter how friendly, is at the least a competitor. And countries that currently side with you may change their stance in the future. The less leverage other countries have, the better. For example, once WWII ended the USA stopped helping the development of UK nuclear weapons.

The second part are the reasons for which North Korea may be viewed as a specially worrysome nuclear power are:

  • It is certainly not friendly to the USA.

  • It is technically in a state of war with one of USA's allies, and occasionally acts aggressively against it (including exchanging artillery fire).

  • It has publicly conducted illegal actions in other countries2 (kidnapped Japanese citizens, murder of Kim Jong Nam).

  • It is a totalitarian regime, which means fewer controls preventing a single individual deciding to use the nuclear weapons.

  • It has little foreign contact, which means both less leverage against it (has no foreign trade to lose if an embargo is placed) and less knowledge of its internal politics (what things are they interested in and which things they see as threatening).

  • The North Korean weapon program is in breach of previous pacts to which the USA was party to.

Additionally, internally it is very hard to sell to the public that the USA cannot impose its will in a tiny, backwards country in the Far East and that it has to begin talks without being able to dictate the terms. Politicians court the public favour by the use of grandstanding claims ("Our mighty army! The USA are an exceptional case!") which do not mix well with realpolitik.

1And yes, you can claim that it is hypocritical for one of the nuclear superpowers to have this aim. Others can claim that, while this approach benefits the USA, it also benefits the rest of the world. We are looking at the reasons from the USA point of view.

2Here again, the USA has done that, too. Did I tell you that these were the reasons from the USA point of view?

  • 65
    I feel like one bullet point should be that if you just accept one crazy dictatorship becoming a nuclear power, that sends the wrong message to other crazy dictatorships.
    – sgf
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 19:04
  • 46
    North Korea has also shown a concert video where they simulate nuking San Francisco. We hopefully have all learned from the 1930s and 1940s that sometimes when totalitarian regimes signal they will do X, they sometimes DO do X. Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 21:14
  • 14
    @MatthewGunn Actually, saying "X is like Hitler" (or Stalin, or whoever) is neither insightful nor useful at all; do you want USA attacking Russia (because intervention in Ukraine, "it is like Hitler with Tchecoslokia"), China (Tibet), Israel (Palestinian territories)etc?. Everybody can claim "my enemy is like Hitler", so that kind of comments may help you feel better but they add no practical value at all...
    – SJuan76
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 22:22
  • 36
    @SJuan76 The argument is that (1) N. Korea is different than any existing nuclear power in that it publicly celebrates the use of nuclear weapons on its adversaries and (2) that message, that celebration of the use of nuclear weapons should not be entirely ignored. When a crazy guy on the street says he's going to stab you, it's a mistake to ignore that threat because sometimes (even if its rare) the crazy guy is conveying true intentions. How would you advise making the point that fantastical, seemingly irrational threats should not be ignored? Is a reference to the 30s so unreasonable? Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 0:14
  • 17
    @SJuan76 I usually don't care about misspellings of my country's name, but ... man you really couldn't use the wikipedia? Tchecoslokia is just about as far as you can get with people understanding you didn't mean Poland. Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia please.
    – DRF
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 17:45

Enough deterrent

The United States hasn't invaded North Korea in over sixty years. Why does North Korea need nuclear weapons? The existing threat of artillery hitting Seoul is more than sufficient to prevent an invasion. We know this because the US hasn't invaded North Korea to prevent the development of nuclear weapons because of the more conventional threat to Seoul.

What is different about nuclear missiles? They can be used to attack countries other than South Korea. If North Korea shells or invades Seoul, they can't also deter an invasion by threatening to shell Seoul. They lose their deterrent if they use it. Meanwhile, nuclear weapons leaves them with two threats. So they can use one and retain the other. For example, they could invade South Korea while threatening other countries. Or they could use nukes on a more distant country while threatening Seoul if invaded.

If they wait for the right moment, they might be right. Barack Obama did not intervene militarily when Russia invaded Ukraine. He might not have countered a nuclear North Korea if it had advanced to Seoul. But the US might react differently to an attack from North Korea. For one thing, Obama is no longer president. Also, North Korea is not China much less Russia. It's a small country with few places to hide missile infrastructure and limited missiles. But even if wrong, they might still have to invade to find out they're wrong.

Mending relations

Given that, why does the US not just accept that, and attempt to mend relationships?

There is no evidence that North Korea wants a mended relationship. Obama was president for eight years. His biases favored diplomatic relations, which he opened with both Iran and Cuba. If North Korea wanted mended relations, they had eight years to develop them. And that ignores the fact that during the George W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations, the US was actually giving North Korea aid. They weren't exactly hostile to diplomatic relations.

North Korea could have easily had a "mended" relationship for twenty-four years. While I wouldn't have followed Donald Trump's approach, as it is too noisy in my opinion, it's not much of an obstacle to normalized relations.

They could do something about it

when they can't do anything about it?

But that's the thing. In this particular case, the US could do something about it. The situation today is that North Korea is no particular threat to the US or even Japan. They are close to developing such a threat. But they are still at the point that a preemptive attack would work. However, that doesn't prevent a conventional artillery attack on Seoul.

It is generally acknowledged that if North Korea did use nuclear weapons on the US, the US would then destroy it. But if that's what's going to happen, the cheapest time for it to happen is now. North Korea will never be weaker than it is today. And Kim Jong-un is on a train that can only go two ways. One way leads to an invasion of South Korea. The other way leads to the fall of his government.

Any other options he might have are already available to him. If they interested him, he could have pursued them during the Obama administration. Instead, he pursued nuclear weapons, which are on the path to invade South Korea.

The question then is not if the US and North Korea will go to war. The question is when they will do so. Pretending that that is not the reality won't make it any less true. And delaying that war until later doesn't help the US position at all. The US is at its strongest relative to North Korea today. Delay only makes North Korea stronger without making the US stronger.

The only other real option is that China steps forward and removes North Korea's ability to produce nuclear weapons. However, they have shown no signs of being willing to do that. Perhaps the US could use trading relations to pressure China, but the truth is that China exports far more to the US than the US exports to China. That path leads to more US pain than Chinese pain.

Four options:

  1. The US does nothing and North Korea becomes stronger.
  2. The US bribes North Korea with aid and North Korea agrees to stay where it is (and keeps to that agreement despite breaking previous agreements).
  3. China steps in. Unlikely, since they helped create the current situation.
  4. A military solution. Very painful for South Korea.

If #3 is not really on the table and #2 and #1 are unacceptable, what's that leave? From that standpoint, the US is just waiting for South Korea to realize that and evacuate Seoul.

There are no good solutions. They are only different types of bad. Obama tried #1. Bush and Clinton tried #2. Net result? We're here today. Trump is pursuing #3, which I find unlikely. Absent that, eventually either the US or North Korea will move to #4.

  • 25
    US is strong compared to PRNK, but not so much compared to China. China has said that it will not back PRNK if the US retaliates, but that it will if the US attacks pre-emptively. That changes the military calculus. Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 14:56
  • 5
    I also don't think Kim wants nukes to attack with them - he wants them to avoid regime change (he saw what happened to Sadam and Gadaffi). Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 14:57
  • 10
    @MartinBonner N.K. has had developing nukes since before either of those events.
    – reirab
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 17:05
  • 4
    @MartinBonner They've certainly advanced since then, but I'm not sure that there's sufficient evidence to say that they've accelerated. They've pretty much been working as fast as possible the whole time, though, prior to their first actual test, they were constrained somewhat by the need to keep the program secret enough to have some plausible deniability, since they were still denying its existence at that point. They're still working on things that the U.S. and Russia were doing in the 1950s.
    – reirab
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 17:39
  • 9
    Important point: the US did not invade North Korea, the North Koreans invaded the South. Everything that happened, including lines of battle moving past the DMZ, was a simple consequence of that invasion.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 17:11

What is there that the US can do to "mend relationships"? I certainly can't think of anything: can you? Seems as though the poor relationship between North Korea (and the rest of the world, basically) is entirely the fault of North Korea, and always has been.

North and South Korea started out as one country & culture, not even one lifetime ago, yet look at the different paths they chose to follow. The South is prosperous and a welcome member of the international community, the North is poor and an international pariah. The US is responsible for this only in that it helped prevent the North from overrunning the South. Everything else, including that attempt to take over the South, has been entirely the choice of the NK leadership.

So now you have a country ruled by a third-generation dictatorship verging on theocracy, with a government filled with people who are either mostly or entirely out of touch with reality, or who are afraid to speak out because that will get them killed by the true believers. How do you "mend relationships" with that?

It's like trying to talk about evolution with your creationist neighbor: there's simply no way to connect. And if your neighbor also happens to be a paranoid sociopath with a closet full of automatic weapons, you're better off not even trying to start a discussion :-)

  • 5
    I think that by talking about "the different paths they chose to follow" you're leaving out important context. Korea was colonized by Japan, the north was directly liberated by the USSR, and about 1.5 million North Korean civilians died during the Korean War. Also, you talk about prosperity in South Korea, but leave out the dictatorship and repression that continued for decades; it wasn't until relatively recently that South Korea became a prosperous democracy.
    – Andrew
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 21:24
  • 3
    @Andrew Piliser: The USSR simply replaced Japanese colonization with its own. The North Koreans started that war, the consequences of it are therefore on their own heads.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 16:53
  • 2
    @Andrew Piliser: How are the North Korean people, other than the Kims and their clique, relevant? They have no voice in any of this. Nor do I really understand why you'd think the US assisting South Korea in rebuilding and defense after WWII is similar to colonization. AFAIK, no significant number of Americans have moved there with the intent of permanently settling, nor does the US control the SK government. The US does not seem to gain great financial advantage, either, since the balance of payments has generally been in SK's favor to the last several decades.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Sep 9, 2017 at 4:17
  • 2
    The North Korean people are relevant because they will suffer the consequences. If you want to say that the Kim family made their choices, then say that. Also, the USSR didn't settle NK or take control of the NK government but you were fine with calling that colonization.
    – Andrew
    Commented Sep 9, 2017 at 18:38
  • 1
    @Andrew Piliser: The North Korean people are not relevant in the sense that they have no voice in decisions. Of course they will suffer consequences, just as they have been and are now suffering the consequences of the Kim's rule. And I did not call the Soviet presence in NK "colonization", I said that the USSR merely replaced the Japanese. If you want more precise writing, get the people running this forum to remove the space limits and ban on paragraphing.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 19:39

International politics are not simple, especially among nuclear powers. If we were to consider "letting" North Korea have a nuclear arsenal, we must look at who they are. Consider a more personal question. You and your family are having a picnick. In front of you is a young child with a loaded firearm. Would you try to befrend them and try to convince them to eat alongside your family while they hold onto that firearm? Or would you seek to remove the firearm from their control? The answer must consider the nature of the child holding the firearm to have any reasonable probability of success.


  • North Korea regularly demonized the United States, threatening to destroy it completely. By the child with a firearm metaphor, this is the child that has already threatened to come to school and kill everyone. Do they mean it? I don't think that's an easy question to answer, but I think it does point out that it is highly unlikely that 4 (or 8) years of a president's efforts are going to undo sixty years of aggression and propaganda.
  • North Korea has a history of not honoring its diplomatic endeavors. The most poignant, in my opinion, is when North Korea declared the "Six Party Talks" never happened. That attitude lasted until China put their foot down, and North Korea had to admit that they happened. This child is one who is known to say one thing and do another, repeatedly.
  • What does North Korea want anyway? We certainly can't agree to be friends with a nation without making sure their attitude is in line with ours, at least minimally. One of North Korea's driving goals is the reunification of Korea on their terms, and they are willing to consider war as a valid tool to achieve those goals.

    In December 1955, Kim Il Sung, the country’s founder-president and Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, said in a speech that "peaceful unification" was the ideal option, and could come about when "we grow stronger" and the "forces of peace, democracy and socialism become more powerful.”

    If that fails, “the problem of reunification might also be solved by war,” he said.

Oh bother this last one is hard to put into a child with a handgun metaphor. Our relationship with South Korea is as complicated as any international relationship. However, to give it a proper feel, I would suggest the metaphor should be that the child holding the handgun is a boy who believes they should be with your daughter forever, and is willing to rape her if necessary to achieve this goal.

So with all this, it should be clear that "just being friends" is not easy. That's not to say for certain that it's the wrong path, but one should be aware of just how daunting of a possibility it is.

Now consider the United State's interests. Honestly, I'd feel comfortable saying that the US doesn't directly care about the building of nuclear weapons. What they care about is the possibility of those weapons being detonated on soil friendly to the US. This leads them to push hard against the building of the weapons, but that's not truly their end goal. Just because North Korea cannot be stopped from building nuclear weapons (if you believe that), does not imply North Korea cannot be stopped from launching them. If you look at it from that frame of reference, you can see why the US uses both carrot and stick, rather than just carrots to accomplish their goals. We may disagree with how much carrot and how much stick is being used, but most agree that both must be used.

  • 1
    "[P]ossibility of those weapons being detonated on soil friendly to the US" shouldn't bother US, because it's not US soil. US has bases in South Korea to have bases in that region close to China and Russia. If you replace "friendly soil" with more exact "puppet state", the phrase starts looking quite awkward. Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 3:20
  • 5
    @polkovnikov.ph I stand by my wording. Maybe you have a different definition of "friend" than I do, but mine does include a general interest in my friends not being struck with nuclear weapons.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 4:12
  • 2
    If your "friends" are required to be puppets, I'd prefer not to be one. Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 4:31
  • 4
    @polkovnikov.ph That's your word choice. Do with it what you will.
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 5:04

At some point, the nuclear powers-that-be decided that the nuclear arms race underway at the time could only end badly. There is no "black magic" involved in nuclear weapon technology, and basically, every country (or other well-funded organization) in the world could build them. And sooner or later, someone would be angry (or unstable...) enough to actually press the button. Nobody in their right mind really wants that to happen.

Hence the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons was created. In this treaty,

...the non-nuclear-weapon states agree never to acquire nuclear weapons and the NPT nuclear-weapon states in exchange agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and to pursue nuclear disarmament aimed at the ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals.

To oversimplify a bit, you consent to not building nuclear weapons, and you get peaceful nuclear power, and a promise by the nuclear powers not to be threatened with their nuclear weapons.

At this point of time, there are the following non-signatories:

  • India
  • Israel
  • Pakistan
  • South Sudan

With the exception of South Sudan (which did not exist prior to 2011 and has been struggling with civil war since 2013), you might recognize a pattern there. (India and Pakistan do have nuclear weapons, Israel refuses to deny or confirm.)

Taiwan is not a recognized state, but abides by the treaty.

And then there is North Korea, which has withdrawn from the treaty in 2003.

So, all other considerations aside (see the other answers), there is the question of what happens if some country simply drops out of the treaty and starts to "go rogue".

Or, to put it differently, that very treaty itself is currently put to the test. If it falls to pieces (because it becomes clear that nothing untoward will happen if you drop out and start building nukes), North Korea will certainly not be the last state to go for nuclear armament, and it is only a question of time when we'll see another mushroom cloud over some (ex-) city.

  • 2
    I am a little shocked that nobody else has mentioned the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons! Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 16:38

North Korea would not start any nuclear attack to anyone because the first attack will be the last, so why don't the US leave them alone?

Because US government and US presidents don't want a complete solution for the issue:

  • they show the threat of North Korea to South Korea and Japan and justify their military presence in the region, near the Chinese and Russian borders. (e.g. look how the US use this excuse to justify THAAD deployment to South Korea).
  • for US presidents, conflicts outside the borders are good tools for distracting public opinion from problems people in the US face with; and if needed, wars can unite people behind the president.
  • US economy is dependent on arms trading. Imagine there is no war or major conflicts and threats in the world; Africa, Middle East, East Asia. Then how many jobs are lost?

In fact, as one can see these days, US politics cause more arm producing from North Korea.

  • 14
    You don't say what the "complete solution" is that the US government doesn't want. And your question assumes the US controls the actions of North Korea, which you provide no evidence for. That leaves your first point insensible. Also, your first point assumes that South Korea and Japanese defense priorities are dictated by US, which again you provide no evidence for. Finally, your claim that the US economy is "dependent" on arms trading is completely false. This answer is mostly conspiracy theory. Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 12:34
  • 1- "US controls the actions of North Korea..." Not control, but has effects, see my last sentence...
    – user 1
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 13:18
  • 1
    2- "South Korea and Japanese defense priorities are dictated by US " Not dictated, but by propaganda and justifications Us can have partial control...
    – user 1
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 13:18
  • 3
    3- "dependent on arms"... Who supplies Saudi Arabia with weapons? and why? How people in US think about selling weapons to Saudi-Arabia? why US government continue to sell weapons to saudi arabia?
    – user 1
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 13:19
  • 25
    This answer makes bold claims and accusations, and is in desperate need of some references to back those up.
    – user11249
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 15:57

Every other nuclear armed nation doesn't threaten to use the devices on a regular basis. Most don't talk about them at all.

Whether Kim Jong Un really means it, or whether he's just another twenty something bragging about his new toy, isn't the point. He has threatened to use the weapons offensively. The consequences of a nuclear bomb going off in Seoul, Tokyo, Guam, or Pearl Harbor are too serious to ignore.

  • And let's not forget, Kim Jong Un's orders are real. If he says, "Push the button" they'll push the button. Failure to obey could mean execution. Consider a general in the US who refused a Trump bloviation. "Sorry Donny, I resign. Find someone else."
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 14:55


  1. WE (the people of the USA) have allowed shady, greedy, political criminals to sit in positions of power who only care about self-interests. These people don't care about what is best for the country or it's people, yet we allow them to dictate everything.

  2. We have allowed corporations to infiltrate everything in America, including politics, and the greedy politicians in office have no problems selling us out for money, and so they (corporations with money) actually control everything (pull the strings). Any decisions that are made are then made for financial interests only, not for the sake of peaceful resolutions.

  3. The US has been one of the most corrupt and manipulative countries in the world, and even more so ever since Israel made us their bitch lap dog. As a result, we have committed heinous acts of treason, criminality, and terrorism against humanity. Because of these atrocities, no other countries will ever trust us. Only the weaker ones agree to our unfair, intrusive and outrageously hypocritical policies.

  4. The world, including Korea, has watched us play dirty games and knows are true intentions (US Propaganda only works on us, not them). Korea likely sees us for the hypocrites we are, thus, doesn't want to be told by the only people in the history of the world to ever use nuclear weapons, what to do with theirs. (If anyone should give up nukes, it should be maniacs who have used them, especially if they used them twice for no good reason).

    It doesn't look good when maniacs & thieves want everyone else to disarm themselves and or be less protected. Especially maniacs with a history of invasions, theft, and injustice under the guise of freedom and liberation.

  5. Our main and real goal is to set up military bases in everyone's backyard. We pretty much brute force our way into others sovereign land if they resist. But only if they're weak and easy prey. N. Korea is not, which is why we sit back and do nothing when a lunatic like Kim-Jon-Un makes threats and fires nukes into the ocean aggressively, but invade places like Iraq over bullshit and lies.

  6. Korea may not have the same resources as the Middle East has for us to steal, but our interests are still purely self-centered, thus, taken as aggressive. N. Koreans aren't a bunch of poor defenseless farmers who live in the desert and can barely fight. So we tread much more carefully and try to negotiate, instead of the normal invade, kill and steal. Negotiations tend to be more complicated with people who know what you're all about, can protect themselves and aren't scared of you.

These may not seem like good answers separately, but together they paint the picture for real answers to your questions. And they're honest.

As you have hinted, it would much easier and safer for us to just leave people be. We should only interject in extreme circumstances. But that doesn't suit the goals of greedy, rich and powerful people with agendas. What's best for the world doesn't matter, even if it means the war that leads to millions of deaths.

  • 8
    [Citation needed].
    – cHao
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 20:07
  • 4
    post is biased and opinion based rubbish. If you want to bash US behavior and policy, that is fine. Do so in a way that presents facts and builds a case rather than just comes across as paranoid ranting.
    – Roger Hill
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 21:15

The USA attempted to mend relations with North Korea in the 90s.

There was a framework to seal nuclear weapon technology, engage in economic development and trade, and support civilian power stations.

The treaty was signed.

The majoirty party in the House (opposite to the president) refused to fund it. The rhetoric used was basically "North Korea is evil, and making peace with evil is evil"; this may be because that is what they believed, or they used it to tar the president and prevent a foreign policy success.

Agreements on the part of the USA (and North Korea) where reneged, and the agreement fell apart.

The next president continued this demonization, failing to live up to the agreed upon trade, and generally wagged the dog for popularity. Nothing buys votes like talk of a hostile power everyone must unite behind.

At this point, it would be stupid of North Korea to trust the USA by giving up the nuclear program and expect the USA to keep its promises; they did it once, and the USA reneged on what they promised. So the USA would have to unilaterally trust that North Korea would follow through on its promises and grant concessions.

And odds are good that, given the history between the two countries, North Korea would take what it is given and reneg on its side of the agreement; any good faith squandered would feel like a tit for tat.

Geopolitically, North Korea's current state of being a US hostile state is valuable to the Chinese. It places a buffer between it and American ground forces and an American ally in South Korea.

China doesn't want North and South Korea to merge in a way similar to what Germany did. It doesn't want a powerful American ally right on its flank; it already has too many.

So for the USA to "outbid" China it would require a significant investment, and I doubt it has the diplomatic capitol to pull it off. And until it can, North Korea has little incentive to follow through on any promises it makes for concessions.

  • 5
    "The next president continued this demonization, failing to live up to the agreed upon trade, and generally wagged the dog for popularity." Oh, and also because of (correct) evidence that North Korea was covertly developing nuclear weapons in obvious violation of the whole point of the agreement.
    – reirab
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 7:25
  • 3
    @reirab en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agreed_Framework -- NK cited the "axis of evil" speech as one of the reasons the agreement was void; that speech was pure wag the dog, it was a blatant threat by the USA. The USA failed to live upto their side right from the start of the Agreement. NK wanted normailized relations and energy support while dismantling its nulear plants, USA wanted no nukes. USA openly was failing to fully deliver its part of the deal, with delays, underfunding and rhetorical threats; given that inability, why should it expect NK to fully deliver its part of the deal?
    – Yakk
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 10:39
  • 3
    @Yakk NK was not only violating the agreement, but was actively covertly developing nuclear weapons years before that speech. That's why the speech happened in the first place.
    – reirab
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 15:06
  • 2
    @reirab Yes, the agreement was that the US would do X, and NK would do Y. The US failed to do X starting from the get go, failing to deliver promised supplies. Expecting NK to do Y despite US's lack of doing X seems strange.
    – Yakk
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 15:09

The US has a variety of justifications for having hundreds of thousands of troops and thousands of bases overseas. The US presence in Japan and South Korea, in particular, is contingent on the North Korean threat. If North Korea ceases to be a threat, the US troops stationed in South Korea and Japan will have even less support from local populations then they have now.

If the US "kisses and makes up" with DPRK, there is no reason for troops or bases to be stationed in South Korea or Japan. As Yakk mentions above, a framework to end the conflict was firmly in place in the late 1990's. It wasn't followed because the widely recognized militancy of the GW Bush administration sought to re-double the US military machine, and needed justification in the absence of the cold war.

  • As China is expanding its influence in the region, there's no lack of "reason" for the US to keep their bases with or without NK. Commented Sep 10, 2017 at 23:07
  • @Darkwing And why can't the US directly identify China as the real reason to have huge presence in the region? The answer is obvious; the US needs a weak country to bully. China since 1949 has been very difficult to bully. Whether China is a more evil dominant power than the US depends on who you talk to. There are plenty of ROK people who dislike US, and there are plenty who dislike China. Perhaps the ROK prefers the evil it knows to the evil it doesn't know? In any case, when China is strong enough to get the US to back down, that's when China will force DPRK to behave. Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 1:15

As a supplementary to user1's answer which is just to the point, instead of an extensive comment:

What is the point of this, and why does the US not just accept the situation, when they can't do anything about it? For example, if I was president of the US...

1) The president, or any leader in general, is just the top of the iceberg. The thing visible to the wide public. Obviously, there are deeper reasons besides "psychological of an individual or two" which are responsible and will be responsible for what is going to happen (historical, economical, social reasons).

2) Historically, all big economic crises in the past were followed by either world wars or numerous side wars. Moreover, US intervention policy (or as it used to be called "spreading of democracy") internationally is not something new (Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc, etc)

3) Apart from arms trading, mentioned by user1, there are numerous of other businesses which will be gaining profit from such a war (big credit institutes, resource companies, technology companies-information & telecoms etc., food industry).


The US is generally opposed to nuclear proliferation for the reasons that other answers have given. However, there is another factor at work here: Trump.

North Korea is taking full advantage of the opportunity Trump has given them, at just the time when they are developing nuclear weapons capable of reaching the US.

Trump finds it very difficult to back down, and is prone to issuing threats on Twitter and in off-the-cuff remarks. North Korea is using this to increase tensions between the US and China, which it believes will not allow North Korea to be invaded/nuked or to become a failed state due to sanctions.

This benefits North Korea because China's view is that the best way to diffuse the situation is for the US and South Korea to end war games and military exercises near North Korea's coastline and borders. That's something China would like to see happen for its own benefit too, as it does not want an influx of North Koreans over the border or another democratic state on its doorstep.

North Korea's plan seems to be to escalate until the US is forced to back down, likely by Chinese and Russian intervention. In the best case that would result in the US/SK war games ending and the US being humiliated, something that NK could claim as a victory.


Maybe because North Korea is literally threatening to nuke the US' allies and the US itself?

And besides, North Korea doesn't want a 'mended relationship'. They seem to be past being bribed with aid, let alone a legitimate economic relationship.

North Korea is probably the most hostile nation on Earth to the US, so why would they want to have a mended relationship? North Korea hating the US didn't start with nukes. It happened because the US 'took away' South Korea, so North Korea's not going to stop hating the US until North Korea conquers South Korea, which the US would not let happen. Do you see the issue here?

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    So why didn't the US just mind their own business instead of "taking away" South Korea? Actually, why don't they work with North Korea and South Korea now towards a "peaceful" reunification?
    – Masked Man
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 3:33
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    NK would be happy to have a peaceful reunificaiton. All US troops would leave SK and SK could lay down their weapons and invite the NK troops in. The united Korea would be ruled by NK. This is the peaceful reunification that NK wants. Anything less than this is not likely to be peaceful.
    – Itsme2003
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 17:55
  • The US didn't take away South Korea. I put that in quotes because that's how the North Korean government sees it. The US is perfectly happy for reunification as long as it's bilaterally agreed upon. North Korea, specifically the Kim dynasty, sees themselves as the rightful successor government to the entire country. South Korea would not agree to be taken over by a dictatorship, so reunification doesn't happen. Commented Sep 9, 2017 at 9:27

The thing is: What you hear from the media, what's really happening out there, and how the public reacts to it, is so different we can't really imagine. We are permanently influenced by modern media, most of us take things as we hear them. And that is probably the greatest problem in that conflict.

I don't really think that North Korea will use any of their potentially available nuclear weapons. Any sign of war engagement would cause such a big chain reaction, North Korea would not even survive a week.

Attack against the US is probably the worst one to choose, as the NATO would be engaged. But even without the NATO the US have the capabilities to deal with that attack. Attack against South Korea is probably the same as above, because the US is already there with plenty of equipment to react immediately to such an attack. Same with Japan.

So why would North Korea (or: Kim Jong Un) risk everything they have? It would not be worth it at all.

North Korea is a small country. They are isolated in international community, they do not have any backup in case of war. Even China and Russia did agree to the new UN embargo, they were the last countries that either had understanding for these things.

North Korea just wants a little attention. And because they do not have a big choice, they do it by military development and such things. Starting intercontinental rockets is an act of strength and power. And they get international attention. That is everything they try to achieve. And with the media, they get it.

So before getting too fearful remember: The media does not help you getting an objective point of view. And before a nuclear war starts, there must be more than just a few threats.

The solution for that conflict is not easy. And looking away is not a solution too. But a bit more appreciation for each other would help a lot.

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    "... And before a nuclear war starts, there must be more than just a few threats. ..." Not if there is a mistake happening. Stakes are really high and some North Korean missile could just by mistake hit something (like a Japanese city or so) and start a chain reaction. Humans are not perfect and mistakes happen. The more potential there is for really big destruction the higher the chances that something bad happens. I guess that is/was the idea behind worldwide nuclear disarmament. Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 15:06
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    The oriental concept of "face," multiplied by Kim's lunatic need to maintain the "god" status he inherited make a foolhardy action conceivable. Maybe he would not be suicidal, but given who he is, how can we be sure?
    – WGroleau
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 17:11
  • I get your point. Surely we are at a stage where mistakes by humans can have extreme consequences. And taken as it is, it had been never worse in that conflict. I agree totally with the idea of a nuclear free world. But we can't force nations to join that idea. I just think it's not that close to the start, even though you are completely right that mistakes will have catastrophic consequences. Thanks for your answer!
    – d3coda
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 17:50

Many experts propose that it is not practically possible (without engaging in war and endangering the lives of many civilians, in both US and ally territory) to prevent North Korea from building nuclear weapons.

Yet you cite not a single one of them. However, I agree. Actually North Korea (NK) already built nuclear weapons, so if anything one could only prevent them from building even more nuclear weapons and/or abolishing their existing nuclear weapons.

Given that, why does the US not just accept that, and attempt to mend relationships? Instead, we have Trump having a pissing contest with North Korea, making threat after threat, largely just throwing a hissy fit, and refusing any sort of diplomatic approach.

One could see throwing hissy fits as some sort of diplomatic approach which aims at threatening the other side into submission. While I'm sure that the US are aware of the costs of preventing NK to build more nuclear weapons, they are probably also be aware of the risks of let NK continue developing their nuclear weapons.

They could attempt to try a more benign relationships and indeed I think it is a big mistake of Trump not to at least try to stop NK diplomatically (even though I would guess it would probably not work anyway). The current US administration may be very pessimistic regarding the possibility of mending relationships or it may act not very prudent, kind of on the same level as NK, both is possible.

What is the point of this, and why does the US not just accept the situation, when they can't do anything about it?

You can always do something about anything, a small impact is not the same as zero impact. Especially together with China and Russia and South Korea and Japan they could probably have a more pronounced impact. On the other hand, I wonder how you conclude that the US is not accepting the situation? So far, apart from some sharp remarks, nothing really happened on the US side. They clearly seem to formally accept the current situation so far.

For example, if I was president of the US... I will attempt to befriend this enemy ... I would further attempt to strengthen our relationships with trade and other economical transactions so as to increase our co-dependency and decrease the probability of military conflict. ...

That is one possibility but be reminded that history is also full of examples where this strategy didn't work out very well. Appeasement politics towards Hitler comes to my mind as the first example.

Basically there is no guarantee that befriending NK will decrease the threat they pose. Especially befriending dictators is a very sloppy road I rather would not want to walk down. It can end equally deadly.

...that seems to be America's plan? Why?

For them NK does pose a serious threat, especially if NK obtains the capacity to strike on US mainland territory. It may be better (from their point of view) to stop NK before that, even if the death toll would surely be quite high, than to wait and waste time with diplomacy that may be likely to fail anyway and then stand at a strategically even worse position.

They have to evaluate all options and war is always in option, even in our modern time. It probably also depends on the reaction of China, which is probably not very happy about NK with hydrogen bombs but also not about the prospect of a war between NK and others.

Finally, the current US administration is widely criticized. There may be something to it and they may indeed make errors there, judging the situation wrongly.

If you ask me, I feel like the whole thing won't end well, either way. I would not bet on NK open to an acceptable diplomatic solution (nuclear disarming against lots of money?) at all but I would always try it and put such an offer on the table.

  • "Yet you cite not a single one of them" I'll give you a couple. The 3 generals & even Steve Banned, last thing he said was that 10 million dead South Koreans takes military options of the table. Not an expert, I'll grant you, but even his broken clock got it right just the once. The only thing that made Kim a BIGGER THREAT was the election of Trump. This could've been seen in his smears of Clinton. Any thing he said she'd do, he did far worse, before or since Nov. 8. Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 9:37

The USA has to take position against North Korea nuclear ambitions because:

  • Ignoring them would encourage a number of other countries to start a nuclear military industry.
  • There is a select limited number of nations "allowed" to have nuclear weapons and a few others "tolerated, etc." tied with rules and treaties. There is no wish of these to share the power.

This is what the U.S. does. Of course not very happily, but they have no other option:

  1. Even until the successful nuclear program, North Korea could have destroyed Seoul, with ordinary cannon fire, before an invasion would have collapsed them.
  2. Since then, they could destroy Seoul with nuclear bombs.
  3. China clearly stated, if somebody attacks North Korea, they will intervene (if North Korea attacks, they will neutral).
  4. Even economical war won't work - the USA could isolate them, but can't isolate China.

The situation became worse, that they can bomb Japan with nuclear bomb, and likely they will soon be able to bomb the USA (mainland) with hydrogen bombs.

Thus, the US protests, sends the fleet there. South Korea alarms the army to show (mostly to its own people), who angry are they. But nobody can do anything.

Some similar already happened: in 1947, Stalin's CCCP exploded its first nuclear bomb. And, in 1953 (some months after Stalin's death) their first hydrogen bomb. Not only the USA, the whole world couldn't do anything, and the CCCP was finally defeated by economical means and by , 4 decades later.

However, on Kim Jong Un's side is there a big advantage: he already knows the history and it seems, he learns from it. They likely won't step into the same trap.


Why does the US not just accept North Korea's nuclear ambitions and attempt to mend relationships?

My Answer is to turn the original Question around and rephrase it as a more simplified analogy of the situation. I am not trying to be funny or snarky, but rather I am trying to put the Question into a context that eliminates the politics and gets to the core of the matter. To that end here is another way of looking at the situation ...

Why don't adults just accept that children are going to play with matches and, instead of taking the matches away, just ask the kids not to use them?

North Korea's leadership, both past and present, has demonstrated a willingness to act very immaturely to get what they want. If they had "big matches" to use as a bargaining chip for their demands, they could end up burning down the house we all live in.

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    You talk about NK leadership acting immaturely. How is that so different from the US military actions? How much maturity was there in invading Irak and Syria? Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 12:06
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    Sad deflection tactic. We have been seeing alot of this in the US recently ... so much so that it now has a formal name ... it is called "Whataboutisms" and instead of addressing the issue in front of you you say "Well what about this other thing over here?" What about Syria and Irak? Were nuclear weapons used in those situation? No. Now back to the Question that the OP asked for because Stack Exchange is not a debate forum, it is Q&A only.
    – O.M.Y.
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 15:35
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    @SorinPostelnicu The US hasn't invaded Syria
    – samgak
    Commented Sep 7, 2017 at 22:43
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    @O.M.Y.: It's not a deflection tactic. I just said that NK shows the same immaturity as the US. Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 17:32
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    @samgak: The US did not invade Syria, the same way as they did not invade Vietnam. They were there only to support "democracy" (aka: their own economic and geopolitical interests) Commented Sep 8, 2017 at 17:32

The funny thing is that, nine months later, that what the OP asked has actually happened - the US has engaged in mending the relations and accepting a very vague proposal of denuclearization sometime somewhere in the future. So obviously it IS possible, even though it maybe is just due to another erratic action of Donald Trump (that may be retracted again in a few weaks or months).

So the correct answer (as of today) is: The US has accepted the situation, and tries to mend the relationship even by making concessions. We will see if this works out.

(It is a seldom opportunity to check how correct the answers are that have been given under different circumstances, where speculation of course is necessary.)

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