Non-Aggression in a Nuclear Era

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If we trust the media, the world seems to be constantly on the brink of nuclear destruction. Since World War II, global powers have escalated the arms race to the point “Mutually Assured Destruction,” in which it would be suicidal madness for any country to initiate a nuclear attack. Some say that this logical conclusion of nuclear war has held major conflicts at bay, but the world may be getting more dangerous as nations with less to lose unlock the technology to annihilate whole cities with a single bomb.

Hawkish conservatives love to talk about “getting tough” with countries like North Korea and Iran, whose nuclear programs threaten global stability. But while it’s tempting to toughen economic sanctions or plot a pre-emptive strike to enact favorable “regime change,” this strategy does not work according to John Glaser, the Cato Institute’s associate director of foreign policy. Glaser joins the show to break down the latest in the summits and negotiations with North Korea, and to provide some foundations for a more libertarian foreign policy in the current climate.


John Glaser is particularly focused on grand strategy and the role of prestige motivations in international politics. To read between the lines of the recent summit, he notes that we have to consider what motivates foreign dictators, and how best to defuse their feelings of insecurity. After all, they are humans with the same desire for status and respect as any of us.

Glaser’s calm and measured tone in recent TV and radio interviews has mirrored his advice to U.S. leaders and diplomats. First, he says, we have to look at historical patterns. What drives North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and aggression towards the U.S.? The evidence suggests that they mainly seek a deterrent to U.S. invasion. Given our track record in Libya and Iraq — breaking promises and toppling dictators — it’s no wonder that Kim Jong-Un seeks a stronger defense to prevent his own demise.

Second, we have to see how signals of respect — even if undeserved — may be the only way to get North Korea to make concessions in areas of human rights and nuclear de-armament. As the geniuses behind the “Bad Lip Reading” videos show, these meetings are less about specific negotiation points as they are about the surrounding theater, and the optics of a U.S. President meeting the North Korean ruler for the first time.

Despite the spin from both parties, the recent summit was neither a vindication of Trump’s tough-talk from a few months ago (as Republicans claim), nor was it a mistake. Glaser believes that the negotiations were a step in the right direction — a move towards removing some sanctions and giving North Korea some of the respect it craves on the international stage. However, he gives most of the credit to South Korean President Moon Jae-in for providing the assurances to Kim that primed him to attend the meeting.

Speaking on Fox News recently, Glaser noted that this kind of negotiation is exactly what North Korea has always wanted. President Trump hinted at reducing the join military exercises by the U.S. and South Korea, and North Korea has offered to remove long-range artillery from the border with South Korea. It’s almost as if a less aggressive stance towards countries like North Korea causes them to reciprocate and tone down their aggression.

While these are positive signs, the real progress will come in the months and years ahead, as diplomats work out the details behind closed doors. Will Trump and Kim be able to put their egos aside to continue down the path of reconciliation? Tune in to get the full picture on North Korea.

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