The inevitable return of muddling along in North Korea

The combination of covert action, missile defenses, severe economic pressure, and information campaigns will not eliminate the North Korean nuclear and missile arsenal. It will not solve the problem of North Korea. It might, however, contain it. Reducing the risk of a nuclear-armed North Korea is a worthy objective of American policy, even if eliminating it completely is not now an achievable option.

Trump was right to test the possibility that Kim would break with past practice. It was productive to see if Kim might prioritize economic growth ahead of nuclear weapons. And the administration was right to leave the table when Kim evinced no seriousness about abandoning his nuclear programs, and to foreswear a bad deal.

Trump has attempted the apparently unachievable—in Hanoi he reportedly urged Kim to “go big,” and to trade Pyongyang’s entire nuclear arsenal for the lifting of all sanctions. He previously threatened the unacceptable—catastrophic war on the Korean peninsula, or “fire and fury.” Now the trick is to muddle along.