In the most important sense, the Hanoi summit failed for a very simple reason: North Korea will not eliminate its nuclear arsenal ov
er the next months or years. However, this does not mean that negotiations are doomed to fail or misgu
ided — just the opposite. It is more important than ever that negotiations succeed in limiting the threat from a nu
clear-armed North Korea. Without a decisive shift in course, a third summit would only end up like the first two.
Pyongyang’s conduct over the last year and decade should leave no doubt about its in
tention to retain its nuclear arsenal. Pyongyang has made unreasonable requests for compensation, obfuscate
d or stonewalled during talks and has continued to expand, conceal, and deploy its arsenal even as they co
ntinued. The Hanoi summit failed to disarm North Korea because North Korea won’t disarm.
But in another sense, the summit failed because the Trump administration has main
tained an inflexible insistence that immediate disarmament is the only acceptable outcome.
When Pyongyang refuses an implausible proposal to han
d over a down payment of warheads, the administration goes off in search of the next
implausible proposal that might happen to work. Trump is unprepared and unequipped to negotiate a