When Donald Trump canceled his planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un—before hinting that it might happen anyway after all, as the South Koreans moved into damage-control mode on Saturday with an impromptu summit of their own—it followed days of discussion over a historical parallel: Libya. U.S. National-Security Adviser John Bolton said the basis for a deal with North Korea was the “Libya model” from 2003 to 2004, when Muammar Qaddafi essentially handed over his entire nuclear program to the United States. For North Korea, however, this allusion to Libya looked “awfully sinister” because, in 2011, less than a decade after Libya appeased the West, the United States and its allies joined with local rebels to topple Qaddafi’s regime.
For Pyongyang, Libya is not the only warning from history about the perils of disarmament. In 2003, Iraq claimed to have abandoned its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, and even allowed inspectors back into the country, but nevertheless endured a U.S. invasion and regime change. In 2015, Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, but in 2018 Trump tore up the deal.
So are there any models of “rogue” regimes with nuclear programs that might appeal to North Korea? The answer is yes. But, unfortunately, it’s a state that kept its nuclear deterrent intact: Pakistan. If Pyongyang is weighing up two possible futures—Libya vs. Pakistan—it’s not much of a choice. [Continue reading…]