Speaking today during a visit to Japan, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared the last 20 years of “diplomatic and other efforts” with North Korea to have failed, declaring North Korea’s nuclear program an “ever-escalating threat,” and calling for a new approach.
Between rising tensions with North Korea, and the US deploying missile drones to the border just a few days ago, this talk of a new approach may be seen as an ominous sign of a more directly confrontational policy, it’s not totally clear that’s the case, since Tillerson went out of his way to avoid details.
The declaration that diplomacy has “failed” may also be targeted at China, which has been trying to coax the US and North Korea to the negotiating table, and suggesting mutual measures aimed at reducing tensions, proposals which were immediately rejected by the US.
Indeed, the Trump Administration went out of its way just last week to declare diplomacy was not viable because North Korea is “irrational,” and today’s comments only underscore that stance by the Trump Administration, although it also raises doubts about whether diplomacy can really be said to have “failed” if they’re unwilling to even countenance it as an option.
Tillerson also appeared to try to forestall the fear that this was a prelude to military action, at least a bit, by insisting that North Korea has “nothing to fear” from the US, though again this came just a couple of weeks after the White House openly declared military force an option against them.
Japanese officials appeared quick to concur with Tillerson that diplomacy was not an option with North Korea, and with South Korea having been quick to lash out at Chinese proposals for trust-building concessions, it is unclear what might bring the US to the negotiating table in the future.