Danger of ‘all-in diplomacy’
The author is a senior editorial writer.
With about 100 days left before the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 3, 2020, Joe Biden, the presumptive presidential candidate of the Democratic Party, is ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump in major polls by over 10 percentage points. Since 1940, there were 13 times the number an incumbent president ran for reelection. So far, no candidate who secured over 50 percent support in a poll around Independence Day ever failed to win. Recently, Biden’s rating is over 50 percent in most polls. Unless there is a dramatic change, he will likely win.
Biden, a foreign policy expert, will likely resume the “strategic patience” policy toward North Korea while strengthening U.S.-Korea alliance if he wins. As he supported President Barack Obama as the vice president, he will likely continue the North Korea strategy of the Obama administration.
In fact, during a Democratic Party’s presidential contenders’ debate in January, Biden said that he won’t have a meeting with Kim Jong-un without conditions. It means there will be no North-U.S. summit unless there is a concrete agreement on denuclearization, for instance.
That approach will deal a fatal blow to the Moon Jae-in administration’s North Korea policy. Moon’s diplomacy is overly bent toward North Korea. His top priority is resuming inter-Korean exchanges to bring peace on the Korean peninsula. He is putting all diplomatic efforts into realizing this goal.
On July 3, Moon named Rep. Lee In-young as the new unification minister, National Intelligence Service (NIS) director Suh Hoon as the National Security Office chief and former Rep. Park Jie-won as the new NIS director. If appointed, those doves are all occupying top posts on North Korea. The Moon administration’s diplomacy with the United States is also focused on persuading Trump to lift sanctions on North Korea.
The Moon administration is seeking to resolve all issues through a “big deal” between Kim and Trump. Since both of them are “top-down” style leaders, Moon believes every problem can be solved once they strike a deal.
But there is a limit to a strategy that risks everything: when you lose, there is no backup. If Biden wins the U.S. election, the big deal plan between Kim and Trump will go to waste.
The “October Surprise” is a well-known U.S. political strategy. It is to showcase a surprise in October for a victory in November. For Trump, he needs to create a surprise rather than wait for it. That is why the Moon administration expects the Kim-Trump summit takes place in October.
But there is a great risk. If the possibility of Trump’s defeat grows, North Korea will stage a provocation — rather than agree to a summit — as it believes Biden will pay attention to North Korea if he wins the election.
Experts said the North will likely test a submarine-launched ballistic missile — a direct security threat to the U.S. mainland — if it decides to make a provocation. If Pyongyang launches a provocation before the election, it will deal a fatal blow to Trump.
Then what should Korea do? The most desperate thing is communicating and connecting, albeit belated, with officials of the Biden campaign. We sill vividly remember that the government had no contacts with the Trump administration after the election.
After North Korea demolished the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong last month, Lee Do-hoon, special representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs, rushed to visit the United States five months after his last trip to Washington. Though the Moon administration blamed Covid-19, it will trigger a serious problem if the two countries stop making direct contact and keep their communications to video calls. It will make it extremely difficult to coordinate North Korea policy with the Biden campaign if it wins the election.