Engaging North Korea: Evidence from the Bush I Administration

8 November 2017 — The National Security Archive

Defense Secretary Dick Cheney Told Allies Military Force Could Jeopardize Initial Diplomatic Strategy with Pyongyang

Declassified Documents Underscore Delicate Balancing Act with Seoul to Align Political, Diplomatic and Security Interests

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 610

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Washington, D.C., November 8, 2017 – The George H.W. Bush administration understood North Korea might be negotiating in bad faith in the early 1990s, yet concluded that negotiations were the best way to resolve the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula, according to documents posted today by The George Washington University-based National Security Archive.

The documents provide valuable historical context for U.S. policymakers as President Donald J. Trump travels to Asia to engage with allies over the North Korean nuclear threat.  Many of the issues being confronted today echo those U.S. strategists faced two decades ago.  

For example, one of the questions the Bush I administration debated was the advisability of military force.  But even Defense Secretary Dick Cheney rejected the option, telling South Korean and Japanese leaders they should not consider “military measures” since “such discussion could jeopardize our initial diplomatic strategy,” according to a high-level internal briefing book.  

On the matter of China’s motives, American policymakers were candid enough to acknowledge their uncertainty but did conclude that Beijing was unlikely to do anything that might threaten the regime in Pyongyang.

U.S. negotiating strategy included developing “nooses” to tighten around North Korea if it continued to delay, while understanding the importance of preparing the ground for multilateral coercive measures even as talks went ahead.

The documents in today‘s posting were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

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THE NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVE is an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The Archive collects and publishes declassified documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A tax-exempt public charity, the Archive receives no U.S. government funding; its budget is supported by publication royalties and donations from foundations and individuals.