American Foreign Policies for North Korea


The US employs different foreign policies when dealing with rogue states. Two former administrations maintained the US foreign policy of Comprehensive Containment; Bush I and Clinton governments. It describes the economic, military, and diplomatic strategies used to combat terror and ‘contain’ weapons of mass destruction (WMD) (Kang, 2003). On the other hand, the Limited Engagement policy was initiated during the Clinton administration for promoting “peaceful unification of the two Koreas and bring peace in the Korean Peninsula” (Kang, 2003). This paper focuses on these two strategies and why a unique approach should be chosen for North Korea.

The Issue of North Korea

The theories of containment and engagement have been proposed as possible paths of action for North Korea. The North Korea issue is unique; North Korea is a product of the Cold War, a period during which the US adopted a rigorous containment policy towards the Soviet Union and other friendly states to contain communist influence. Kang states that “since 1953, N. Korea has faced both determined South Korean military and US military deployments” (2003, p. 304). Kang (2003) further argues that although tension on the Korean Peninsula has remained high, the US containment policy has managed to keep the region relatively stable by forcing both sides to adopt a cautious approach and avoid military confrontations.

Despite Kang’s arguments in support of the containment strategy, North Korea continues to pursue its nuclear ambitions posing a major security threat to the Korean Peninsula. The Agreed Framework demonstrated that containment and deterrence could not work in North Korea’s case (Cummings, 2009). This forced the Clinton Administration to embrace a more diplomatic approach instead of this ‘crime and punishment’ strategy.

The Limited Engagement policy for N. Korea was adopted to deal with threats posed by N. Korea’s nuclear program and saw N. Korea increase its deployments to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in the Peninsula (Cummings, 2009). This approach also seeks to accommodate other competing interests: enhancing the US-Japan relations and accommodate the post-Cold War US strategy and China’s national interests (Cummings, 2009). Drawn from the Agreed Framework of 1994, this approach sought to unify North and South Korea as articulated in the containment strategy framework. However, considering that Pyongyang’s main aim is to protect the regime, the limited engagement policy may not meet the desired results. There are two explanations for this; first, Pyongyang was pushed to the 1994 Agreement for economic reasons, i.e., The fear of economic isolation and sanctions.

Also, Pyongyang still has wrong perceptions about US intentions and its security demands, especially about WMD. Nevertheless, the Agreed Framework of 1994 was the only suitable approach for addressing the tension in the Peninsula. Three possible approaches have been proposed for N. Korea’s case: suspending the Agreed Framework, diplomatic dialogue with N. Korea to convince the regime to end its nuclear program, and seeking international support to impose sanctions on Pyongyang.


To address the N. Korean case, the US should consider a more blackmail posture for North Korea and first seek international support from countries like China, Japan, and Russia. Though these countries do not support economic sanctions for N. Korea, they also do not want N. Korea to own WMDs. Thus, economic sanctions especially terminating funding of the reactors and suspending the Agreed Framework, would force Pyongyang to take end its nuclear activities and agree to dialogue with the US towards restoring peace in the Korean Peninsula.


Cummings, B. (2009). The North Korea Problem: Dealing with Irrationality. Current History, 108(719), 284-290

Kang, D.C. (2003). International Relations Theory and the Second Korean War. International Studies Quarterly, 47(3), 301-324