Rex Tillerson’s ‘New Approach’ to North Korea Sounds a lot like the Old Approach

March 30, 2017
Jeffrey Lewis

This article originally appeared in The Washington Post on March 24, 2017.

When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson showed up in Asia this month, he announced that the United States would take a “new approach ” to North Korea. Tillerson avoided any specifics of how he planned to get a different result, but he was well armed with platitudes — he spoke of decades of failed “diplomatic and other efforts,” joined the Japanese foreign minister in calling Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs “totally unacceptable,” and urged the North’s leaders “to change your path.” Shortly after Tillerson departed, North Korea attempted yet another missile launch.

Rex Tillerson

Rex Tillerson, Source: Flickr

Poor Tillerson. Someone forgot to tell him that a new administration promising a new approach it can’t quite articulate is, in fact, the old approach.


Instead, we should consider how our policies need to change and what concessions we might trade for different behavior from North Korea. I don’t believe that Pyongyang is going to abandon its nuclear or missile programs. But we might successfully seek a freeze in nuclear and missile testing that prevents North Korea from advancing those programs even further. Its leadership has been clear about what it might want in exchange for such a pause, including a reduction in military exercises, acceptance of their space launch program and an easing of the regime’s isolation.

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