Joe Biden’s ‘patience’ could spark North Korea missile threat ‘very soon’

Kim Jong-un watches Hwasong-14 get erected in 2017

The President-elect, who beat Donald Trump in a crushing election win last month, will inherit a difficult relationship with North Korea. Despite numerous different approaches, there has yet to be a policy that has deterred Kim Jong-un from conducting missiles tests. Mr Biden’s administration has been warned to expect imminent provocations from the hermit state if they do not drastically address their demands. 

Victor Cha of the Strategic Centre for International Studies, explained that despite the polarised approaches towards North Korea, nothing has worked. 

Under Barack Obama’s two terms of “strategic patience”, where sanctions were not released, the state conducted 61 ballistic missile tests.

President Trump’s “fire and fury” approach, where they applied “maximum sanctions and maximum pressure”, resulted in 20 ballistic missile tests and a hydrogen bomb test.

The departing US leader’s hostility nearly led to war between the two nations before the Hanoi summit last year, which was arranged with the help of China. 

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Despite the “love letters”, exchanging of gifts and “bromance” that followed between President Trump and Kim, a further 20 ballistic missile tests occurred.

Mr Cha said: “None of this is working, it all results in more not less nuclear capability.”

His CSIS colleague Sue Mi Terry felt that the US’ decision to be “reactive” rather than proactive often led them to conduct more “tests and provocations”.

This, she theorised, was Kim’s way to bump discussions about the state’s sanctions up the agenda and force leaders to address them.

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Ms Terry said: “We ignore North Korea until there is a provocation, until there is a missile test, we know North Koreans don’t like staying ignored.

“So if this goes on for longer, I do think we will have to expect a provocation… we know North Koreans like to conduct a provocation around an election.

“They need to reset the stage to increase leverage or get back to negotiations and we do not want to test this.”

Mr Cha explained that in the past North Korea had “refused to be ignored” and “forced themselves onto the [US] agenda with provocations”.

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He continued: “What concerns me is that I think Kim Jong-un and the leadership there will see ‘strategic patience’ from Biden. 

“That’s what I worry about and they may do a provocation just to say, ‘We won’t stand for strategic patience anymore, which could set-off dynamics.”

Mr Cha felt that President Trump and Kim missed a “real opportunity to change the course of history on the Korean peninsula”.

He attributed this to neither of them having “a plan or being prepared” to negotiate over their terms, in comments made during an episode of The Impossible State podcast last month.

Mr Cha said: “There were two leaders who liked the show but were really not ready in terms of the substance of working out a deal.

“They didn’t bring their domestic side with them, they didn’t get all their ducks in a row at home before they went to the [negotiating] table. 

“This was not Reagan and Gorbachev at Reykjavík, these were two leaders who liked the show and were really not sure what they wanted to do after their first move.”

The Impossible State was released by the Centre for Strategic International Studies on November 24. It is available here.

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