Biden’s way of dealing with Kim
The author is the international, foreign affairs and security news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
The Joe Biden administration’s North Korea policy review is in the final stages. Last week, acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Sung Kim said that the review would be completed in a few weeks. State Department spokesperson Ned Price described the visits to Japan and Korea this week by Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin an “important element in the North Korea policy review in progress.”
After in-person consultations with Korea and Japan and the first U.S.-China high-level meeting in Anchorage on Thursday and Friday, the Biden administration will complete its approach. It is a very fast pace, considering that it took about six months in the past. While North Korea, South Korea, Japan and China are waiting for the North Korea policy announcement and closely watching how their demands will be reflected. One thing that is certain is that the new North Korea policy is not the magical solution to the nuclear issue.
In any country, a democratic leader obsesses over making accomplishments during the term. The leader wants to grab the train of history. In the 30 years of the North Korean nuclear crisis, each U.S. administration pursued resolution with fancy branded policies, the North Korea-US Geneva Nuclear Agreement in the Clinton administration, multilateral resolution through six-party talks of Bush, strategic patience of Obama and maximum pressure and engagement of Trump.
But it has failed each time. For North Korea with decades of inherited dictatorial rule, a new administration in the U.S. that would last four or eight years was considered a “chance,” despite the presence of the superpower, and in the meantime, North Korea’s nuclear and missile capability was enhanced.
I hope the Biden administration would be a little different. At least, the beginning is not bad. Secretary of State Tony Blinken said at the House foreign affairs committee on March 10 that the new U.S. administration sought “the different pressure point” to secure the best means for progress in North Korea’s denuclearization. While it is uncertain whether the pressure point will be human rights in North Korea or additional pressure on China, the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” is likely to be continued in any form.
H.R. McMaster, a lecturer at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute who served as the National Security Advisor for Trump, presented a 28-page report to the Senate Armed Services Committee on global security challenges on March 2. I envy this report because it follows the tradition of hearing predecessor’s concerns, which is nonexistent in Korea. Here, McMaster pointed out two wrong assumptions on the process of third-generation succession of the Kim Il Sung family as the background of failed diplomatic efforts.
He claimed the policy failed because the U.S. had futile hopes that North Korea’s opening — sometimes called “Sunshine Policy” — would change the essence of the regime or the belief that Kim family’s rule was not sustainable and would collapse before the North developed and deployed nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. He also argued that the United States should exert maximum pressure until Kim decides that his regime was safer without the nuclear program than with it. He proposed three principles: not offering initial agreement or compensation to bring Pyongyang to the talk table; persuading China to enforce UN sanctions as it makes up 95 percent of North Korea’s trade; and showing the willingness and capacity to use military power against North Korea if necessary.
I hope the democratic leaders today will reference McMaster’s advice.