Sanity Returns to N.Korea Policy

      May 23, 2022 13:07

      President Yoon Suk-yeol and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden have agreed to expand joint military exercises and the deployment of American strategic military assets to defend the South against a nuclear attack by North Korea. Their joint statement last Saturday said, "Considering the evolving threat posed by [North Korea], both leaders agree to initiate discussions to expand the scope and scale of combined military exercises and training on and around the Korean Peninsula." The drills were halted or scaled down following the U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore in 2018.

      The two leaders also voiced their intention to respond to a North Korean nuclear attack with nuclear weapons, saying they would use the "full range of U.S. defense capabilities, including nuclear, conventional, and missile defense capabilities." They pledged to reactivate a strategic consultative body to discuss extended deterrence against North Korea that was iced in 2018. "Extended deterrence" refers to the use of U.S. nuclear bombers, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and submarines when an American ally faces a nuclear attack.

      After the Singapore summit, then U.S. President Donald Trump claimed he had confirmed that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was willing to achieve denuclearization, and blithely set about dismantling the U.S.-South Korean security system that had been built up over decades. The summit set no principles or deadlines for North Korean denuclearization and another U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi, Vietnam in 2019 collapsed when it became clear that Kim had no intention of scrapping his nuclear weapons. Yet the Moon Jae-in administration clung like a drowning man to the illusion of peace through dialogue without security guarantees and wore itself out trying to pacify a perpetually incensed North Korea.

      In the meantime North Korea calmly advanced its nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs and scrapped a moratorium on testing such weapons announced before the Singapore summit. It continued to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and now even tactical nuclear weapons aimed at South Korea. It is thought to be preparing for a seventh nuclear test. As he left office, Moon sent an abject letter to the North Korean leader claiming that he "held your hand and took a solid step that will change the fate of the Korean Peninsula."

      But the new leaders of South Korea and the U.S. reiterated "their common goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and agree to further strengthen the airtight coordination to this end." When asked if he has any message for the North Korean leader, Biden just said, "Hello." U.S. media reported that Biden does not expect to receive any "love letters" from Kim, and there was no mention of the meaningless 2018 inter-Korean summit or the Singapore summit in the joint statement.

      The U.S. and South Korean administrations have both changed, abandoning illusions of resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis through photo ops and fine words. A sane approach to North Korea has returned, but it took four long years.

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