Converting Maximum Pressure to Maximum Leverage: The Role of Sanctions Relief in Negotiations with North Korea
The Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign has led to the imposition of a nearly comprehensive international sanctions regime targeting North Korea and its nuclear weapons program. With negotiations underway, the question of whether to provide North Korea with partial sanctions relief in exchange for limited concessions on its nuclear program has been a major point of dispute between Washington and Pyongyang. This paper looks at sanctions as a form of coercive bargaining and examines the logic and challenges behind a strategy of incrementally exchanging relief from pressure for compliance with the sanctioner’s demands. It argues that taking an “all-or-nothing” approach to sanctions relief risks missing an opportunity to reduce the threat of North Korea’s nuclear program and squandering hard-won negotiating leverage, and outlines a framework for how a step-by-step approach might proceed.