For Trump or Biden, N. Korea is the Problem that Won’t Go Away

26 Aug

For Trump or Biden, N. Korea is the Problem that Won’t Go Away

Donald Trump may have redefined what is possible when it comes to the United States’ relationship with North Korea, whether it was threatening to “totally destroy” the country or becoming the first sitting U.S. president to meet and later claim he “fell in love” with its leader. But U.S.-North Korea diplomacy could soon become more conventional. Joe Biden, Trump’s challenger in the November presidential election, has promised a more traditional approach to North Korea. He’s also signaled a return to a more antagonistic relationship. During the campaign, Biden has repeatedly referred to Kim Jong Un as a “dictator,” a “thug,” and a “tyrant.” North Korea has shot back, calling Biden an “imbecile” and a “fool of low IQ.”  Though Biden didn’t directly mention North Korea in his nomination acceptance speech last week, the Democratic nominee said if elected he would ensure the “days of cozying up to dictators” are over.  Instead, Biden says he would tighten sanctions on North Korea and work with allies, as well as China, to pressure Pyongyang to make concessions on its nuclear program. Strategic patience redux? For many analysts, Biden’s ideas about North Korea sound familiar. As vice president, Biden helped oversee former President Barack Obama’s policy of “strategic patience,” which attempted to gradually apply economic and military pressure until Pyongyang was ready to negotiate. While Biden doesn’t use the phrase “strategic patience” to describe his North Korea plans, his administration may end up with a policy of “strategic patience by default” if it doesn’t offer “some kind of unilateral opening gesture to compel the North Koreans back to negotiations,” says Jenny Town, a North Korea specialist with the Washington D.C.-based Stimson Center.  But if his campaign comments are any indication, Biden is not interested in meeting Kim anytime soon. Biden In this file photo taken on June 30, 2019, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un (L) and US President Donald Trump shake hands during a meeting on the south side of the Military Demarcation Line that divides North and South Korea.Instead, in an article earlier this year Biden People watch a TV showing a file image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, July 31, 2019.In the view of one senior South Korean Blue House official who spoke to VOA last year, a return to “strategic patience” is impractical, in large part because North Korea already has the nuclear weapons it has long sought. “Strategic patience — what would we be waiting for?” asked the South Korean official. A growing number of nuclear policy analysts believe the United States, rather than pushing for denuclearization that may never happen, should instead focus on reducing North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and ensuring Pyongyang doesn’t use it. But there are no signs either Biden or Trump plan to formally embrace an arms control or deterrence approach to North Korea. Doing so would essentially amount to recognizing North Korea as a nuclear power, setting what many see as a dangerous precedent for global nuclear non-proliferation efforts.  What will North Korea do?  In the end, much will likely depend on how North Korea acts.  At the beginning of 2020, Kim warned he no longer feels constrained by his moratorium on long-range missile or nuclear tests and threatened to soon show off a new “strategic weapon.”  But since those comments, North Korea has had to deal with the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, devastating floods during a worse than usual monsoon season, and sanctions that continue to hold back its economy.  Although state media have vaguely hinted at a provocation timed for the U.S. election, Kim may be reluctant to do anything that upsets the chances for diplomacy. In July, Kim Yo Jong, the North Korean leader’s increasingly powerful sister, said her country has “no intention of threatening the United States…if they don’t touch us and hurt us.”  “We are not saying we are not going to denuclearize,” she said. “But we cannot denuclearize now.” 

SJ

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