Kissinger doesn’t say so [in his Wall Street Journal essay], but the urgency of the current crisis derives, not from of any imminent military threat to the United States, but from the volatility of the American president. A former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State under Presidents Nixon and Ford, Kissinger does hint at Donald Trump’s ineptitude as a negotiator.
Heretofore the administration has urged China to press North Korea as a kind of sub-contractor to achieve American objectives. The better – probably only feasible approach – is to merge the two efforts and develop a common position jointly pursued with the other countries involved.
China’s incentives in the matter are two-sided, according to Kissinger. It can’t abide nuclear proliferation in Asia. If North Korean nukes were to become fully operational, South Korea, Japan and even Vietnam would have to develop weapons of their own, or risk nuclear blackmail. But neither does China dare risk chaos on its northeast border in the event of collapse nor permit the possibility of nuclear weapons in South Korea without forfeiting self-respect. “China’s incentive to help implement denuclearization will be to impose comparable restraints on all of Korea,” Kissinger writes.
Moreover, since managing denuclearization requires sustained international aid and cooperation, the US and Chinese must agree on the aftermath, too: “specifically about North Korea’s political evolution and deployment restraints on its territory.” Such an understanding “should not alter existing alliance relationships,” Kissinger writes, meaning the US and South Korea.
South Korea and Japan must be involved in the process: South Korea because it would be most directly affected by a diplomatic solution, Japan because it would suffer most from lack of one. It is one thing for the US and others countries to promise they wouldn’t “take advantage” of denuclearization, meaning, presumably, buy up assets in the North, Kissinger says, delicately. “Seoul is certain to insist on a more formal and embracing concept.”