About ten years ago I went to visit the US State department and asked a senior official regarding US strategy on relations with the DPRK. She replied with something to the effect of “when they give up their nukes, we’ll talk to them.”
“Do you think they’re really going to do that?” I asked.
“No not really.”
“So our North Korea strategy is to not have a North Korean strategy?”
When Donald Trump came into office he took a more incremental approach, that somewhat reminds of the Lean Startup Methodology, often cited as the bible of modern day entrepreneurship. The basic idea is that while companies were built on a longer time cycle and therefore took years and millions of dollars to build a first iteration product, nowadays costs have decreased and the world moves much faster so the optimal strategy is to build a much smaller Minimum Viable Product (MVP), get some data on how it works with a small set of customers, then iterate on it quickly to get to product-market fit.
“We’ll talk to them when they give up their nukes” is a long term, comprehensive, old world way of executing diplomacy. “Let’s give a bit and see if they give back” is much more in line with the way the commercial world operates today as exponential trends increase the rapidity of change around us.
Love him or hate him, Donald Trump through a more incremental approach has gotten more movement on DPRK issues in the last two years than we’ve seen in decades. I hope we see more lean startup diplomacy applied to a broader set of international issues ahead.