Nuclear Crises with North Korea and Iran: From Transformational to Transactional Diplomacy
The ongoing nuclear impasses with both North Korea and Iran reflect a persisting tension in U.S. policy—whether the objective toward “rogue” states should be to change their regimes’ behavior or to change the regimes themselves. Should nuclear diplomacy be transactional, focused narrowly on the discrete nuclear challenge, or transformational, comprehensively addressing these regimes’ objectionable behavior? Rhetorically, with both North Korea and Iran, the Trump administration aspires for the transformational.
To break the impasses, the Trump administration should pivot from a transformational strategy to the transactional. The current transformational approach relies on maximalist goals that cannot be attained short of regime change. Transactional diplomacy with discrete, limited objectives offers a plausible pathway for constraining, not eliminating, these states’ threatening capabilities.