U.S. Normalization with Cuba: Is North Korea Next?

President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba is an historic development that’s been long overdue.

The reality is that U.S. policy over the years has not proven effective in changing things inside Cuba. In fact, that policy has only served to isolate the United States in the region and in the United Nations. There was a real prospect that continuing on the path adopted many years ago would not only not have worked, but might also have led to continuing difficulties for the United States in the hemisphere.

At the same time, U.S. public opinion has also shifted on Cuba, including among Cuban-Americans and the business community. It was clearly time for a change — a change that was hinted at by Candidate Obama before he became president.

Unlike North Korea, Cuba did not slap away the “outstretched hand” of the Obama Administration in 2009. Pyongyang responded to President Obama’s outreach with a missile test and a nuclear test. Also unlike North Korea, Cuba has not posed a threat to the United States for some time. Cuba is also not threatening the region with nuclear holocaust. Cuba is not developing weapons of mass destruction, and there have been numerous signs that Cuba is interested in pursuing serious reform, again unlike North Korea. For all those reasons, and more, Pyongyang has received the near-universal opprobrium of the international community.

It is ironic that Cuba, a country on America’s doorstep within easy reach of American military power, and with a 55-year history of antagonistic relations with the United States has been willing to reciprocate the good will of Washington. Today’s developments reflect considerable wisdom and courage on the parts of both the United States and Cuba, and impressive leadership on the part of Pope Francis.

Many times over the years, the DPRK has had an opportunity to demonstrate similar wisdom and courage, but instead has opted for a tragic course of confrontation and duplicity. Twenty years ago this month, North Korea and the United States agreed to open liaison offices in each others’ capitals. I was supposed to open that office in Pyongyang. It is interesting to reflect on where bilateral relations might be today had Pyongyang not reneged on that agreement, as it has with so many other agreements.

Today’s move by the United States and Cuba, together with the ongoing delicate talks between the United States and Iran, serve only to highlight the degree to which the DPRK is an outlier in contemporary international society. What a tragedy for the DPRK and its people.