And U.S. strategy is muddled. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently offered unconditional talks with North Korea only to be quickly shot down by the White House, where not only Trump has talked up the possibility of military confrontation. National security adviser H.R. McMaster also has warned the potential for war is “increasing every day.”
Shortly before Christmas, the administration unveiled a new security strategy that offered few answers. It vaguely spoke of “improving options” to get the inscrutable North to abandon its nuclear weapons.
By the administration’s own admission, its official North Korea policy of “maximum pressure and engagement” hasn’t to date included significant engagement.
“The White House and the secretary of state seem unable to coordinate on even the most basic elements of a common strategy,” wrote Stephan Haggard, a North Korea expert at the University of California, San Diego.
The U.S. has scored successes in its international pressure on North Korea. It has won cooperation from the North’s traditional backers such as China and Russia on restrictions that have put new strains on an economy Kim has promised to modernize in his half-decade as leader. The U.S. also says more than 20 countries have curtailed diplomatic ties with Pyongyang.