As his Secretary of State was negotiating with China in an effort to find a way to lower tensions with North Korea, President Trump undercut the nation's top diplomat tweeting that he was "wasting his time" engaging in mediation. This is one – but far from the only – example of dysfunctional diplomacy afflicting the administration. If not soon corrected, the damage done to the country could be severe.
For months, the administration has been trying to apply enough pressure on North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un to force him into giving up his nuclear weapons program. A common refrain among the many so-called experts weighing in on why Kim stubbornly refuses to give up his nukes is that the reclusive dictator is irrational, arrogant, or just plain crazy. This much is certain: Kim is a brutal, murderous, and vicious leader. He is not, however, suicidal, and is in fact acting quite rationally based on his worldview.
Fundamentally, looking at situations from another's perspective does not condone their actions, does not concede any of their points, nor acknowledge their views are valid. But when negotiating with any partner—and especially an adversary—it is critical we understand what motivates their actions, what they fear, and what they desire.
It is instructive to determine why the Kim dictators have pursued nuclear weapons so emphatically. First, the reason isn't to gain the ability to attack American cities or personnel in an offensive strike. Their overriding and unambiguous purpose is to provide the regime with the ability to deter invasion and attack from its much stronger neighbors and the U.S., a country with which it warred in the 1950s at great cost.