At a time when US officials bluntly warn that the risk of a war with North Korea is growing by the day, two unlikely people from different generations and backgrounds have emerged with the experience, political savvy, and moral authority that could help put the United States on a pathway to peace.
One is William Perry, an engineer, military technocrat, and defense investor who came close to launching a cruise missile to destroy North Korea’s one nuclear facility as President Clinton’s Secretary of Defense in 1994. Perry recently revealed that, on his recommendation, Clinton was ready to send an additional 30,000 US troops to the peninsula “to defend against a surprise attack from North Korea and safeguard Seoul,” and that he had lined up South Korean and Japanese support for his plans.
Perry, now 90 and an emeritus professor at Stanford University, was branded a “war maniac” by the government in Pyongyang when he made those threats. Yet he still managed to negotiate a remarkable agreement in 2000—later scuttled by President Bush after it was approved in principle by his Secretary of State, Colin Powell—that would have terminated North Korea’s missile program entirely and led to a non-aggression treaty between the two countries. He has been speaking out about the dangers of nuclear proliferation for years.
The other is Suzanne DiMaggio, a “dialogue practitioner” and senior fellow at the New America Foundation in New York. She has spent years working with the United Nations and related institutions to reduce tensions in the Middle East and help break down barriers between the United States, Iran, and Myanmar. Her Iran dialogue project is now in its sixteenth year.
Since 2015, DiMaggio has led a private initiative involving former US and European officials and diplomats to meet with North Korean officials to discuss peace and security issues. Last month, she broke her silence on those talks and, with former US diplomat Joel Wit, laid out a potential path for a negotiated solution with Pyongyang in an op-ed for The New York Times that was widely circulated in US foreign-policy circles.
Together, Perry and DiMaggio have helped shift the conversation in Washington away from demands for a “preventive war”—a term invoked by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and endorsed by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who has also suggested “decapitation” strikes to eliminate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un—and nudged it toward diplomacy and engagement.