Washington faces a trilemma in its management of relations with North Korea. From the perspective of U.S. policymakers, North Korea is a deterrence challenge, a nuclear proliferation threat, and a challenge to regional stability in Northeast Asia. The problem is that no set of policies can address all three frames; each introduces different policy priorities and favors different tools of statecraft to pursue them. This is why all three threat types endure without resolution, and rivalry conditions between the United States and North Korea remain frustratingly durable: The complexity of the situation presents hard choices, which successive U.S. presidents have preferred to avoid, even though doing so has allowed the problem to grow worse and more disadvantageous for the United States over time.
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