The United States has employed a wide range of foreign policy tools to try to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, including two cooperative agreements that ultimately failed to produce the desired outcome. The breakdown of the 1994 Agreed Framework and the Six Party Talks process in the 2000s has led many to conclude that North Korea’s nuclear weapons program cannot be constrained through cooperation. According to this view, Pyongyang violated its previous commitments once it received economic and political benefits and it will do so again in any future negotiations. The underlying assumption is that Washington was fully implementing its own commitments until Pyongyang broke the deal. Is this true, or did U.S. domestic politics complicate the implementation of the agreements?
This dissertation explores this question through a four-part case study using three analytical lenses: a rational actor model, an institutional interests model, and an individual mindset model. It finds that the United States retreated from full cooperation with North Korea not just because of Pyongyang’s actions, but also due to domestic political considerations. Washington reduced its level of cooperation when tolerance for concessions weakened in the domestic system, sometimes because of institutional interests and sometimes due to political maneuvers by individuals who favored stronger coercive measures and more concessions from North Korea.
The study shows that domestic politics impacts not only the negotiation and ratification of international cooperation agreements, but also their implementation. The findings also suggest it is incorrect to assume that past engagement efforts did not succeed solely due to North Korean actions. Whether a more fully implemented engagement policy would have led to North Korea’s denuclearization is beyond the scope of this study, but it indicates U.S. policy was not applied consistently to North Korea. Any future engagement strategy should aim at a more consistent approach for it to produce the desired results.