It’s not clear whether Pyongyang recognizes that distinction—and might use any joint military exercises, such as the type Pence reportedly said would continue, as a pretext to claim the U.S. is pre-emptively violating the agreement. That, in turn, could open the door to the more aggressive posture favored by Bolton and other foreign policy hawks in the administration and Congress. Asked whether North Korean “cheating” would necessarily result in military conflict, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday, “I think so. If it doesn’t mean that, we’ll never get a deal.”
Such a scenario has a name. Richard Haass, the president of the Council of Foreign Relations, deemed it “catastrophic failure” in which “diplomacy judged to have failed and people embrace the alternative.” Though Haass told The Daily Beast that he was more fearful of other outcomes—mainly the Trump administration framing marginal North Korea concessions as massive diplomatic victories—other foreign policy observers weren’t as sanguine about the long game.
“If it turns out that North Korea is blatantly lying to Trump, it would not shock me if you see Trump swing back to Bolton’s direction,” said Dan Drezner, a professor of international relations at Tufts University.