Time to Accept North Korea As a Nuclear Weapons State?


No matter who wins the U.S. Presidential election come November 3, North Korea will be a top national security priority thanks to its growing nuclear weapons capabilities and long-range missiles.

For decades, the majority of North Korea experts, policymakers and politicians on both sides of the political spectrum have maintained that denuclearization is the best policy option, arguing that only a North Korea free of such weapons should be rewarded with large-scale sanctions relief, some form of diplomatic recognition and a security guarantee.

There is, however, a growing minority that argues Pyongyang will never accept denuclearizing in full, and that implicitly or explicitly, the U.S. and its allies must come to terms with decades of policy failures and work towards arms control with Pyongyang. That means either giving up on denuclearization entirely, or, taking the goal of a North Korea free of nuclear weapons and placing it far into the future when a peace accord on the Korean peninsula is fully established.

On October 28, 2020, the Center for the National Interest hosted a webinar featuring an all-star panel of leading experts and experienced policy practitioners to tackle these important questions:

Graham Allison is the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at Harvard University.  Allison is a leading analyst of national security with special interests in nuclear weapons, Russia, China, and decision-making.  Allison was the “Founding Dean” of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and until 2017, served as Director of its Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Ted Galen Carpenter, is a recognized expert on North Korea, is Senior Fellow at the CATO institute and co-author of the book, The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with North and South Korea. Carpenter served as CATO’s director of foreign policy studies from 1986 to 1995 and as vice president for defense and foreign policy studies from 1995 to 2011.

Ambassador Joseph R. DeTrani, is a former Special Envoy for Six Party Talks (2003-2006) with North Korea and the U.S. Representative to the Korea Energy Development Organization (KEDO). Ambassador DeTrani was then appointed as an Associate Director of National Intelligence and Mission Manager for North Korea. In 2010, he became Director of the National Counter Proliferation Center and Special Adviser to the Director of National Intelligence. 

Ambassador Robert Gallucci was the chief U.S. negotiator during the North Korean nuclear crisis of 1994 and served as Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs and as Deputy Executive Chairman of the UN Special Commission following the first Gulf War. Upon leaving public service, Ambassador Gallucci served as Dean of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University for thirteen years before becoming president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Harry J. Kazianis, Senior Director of Korean Studies at the Center for the National Interest, served as the moderator for the discussion.