WASHINGTON: As North Korea fires a blitz of missiles, the United States is sticking to a mixture of pressure and offers of dialogue but US policymakers are resigned that little they do is likely to change Pyongyang’s course.
Eager to avoid another global crisis alongside Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, President Joe Biden’s administration has focused on a more narrow goal of reassuring allies that the US will defend them.
North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Un met three times with Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump but failed to reach a lasting accord, in recent days has fired a record number of missiles, and Western officials say Pyongyang has made preparations for a seventh nuclear weapons test.
“I don’t think there is anything we can do to stop North Korea,” said Sue Mi Terry, a former CIA analyst on Korean affairs who is now director of the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.
“If I were Kim Jong Un’s advisor, I would say, yeah, go ahead,” she said.
“They couldn’t get any kind of deal with Trump and so what are they going to get from the Biden administration? They know this. The only thing they can do is get their program to the next level.”
The US has responded to North Korea by extending exercises with South Korea, including deploying a strategic bomber, and Biden will likely offer robust support for South Korean and Japanese leaders during summits this month in Southeast Asia.
Biden is also widely expected to meet President Xi Jinping of China, Pyongyang’s primary ally, which joined Russia in May in vetoing a US-led bid at the Security Council to tighten sanctions on North Korea.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the United Nations, told an emergency session Friday (Nov 4) that China and Russia had “enabled” North Korea but also reiterated the Biden administration’s willingness to talk to the totalitarian state.
US officials say North Korea has shown no interest in talks and, privately, some think the Kim regime may be in one of its periodic cycles of escalation and that there is no choice but to wait.
Under the last Democratic administration of Barack Obama, some concluded that the US erred in timing by reaching an agreement in February 2012 that quickly collapsed as North Korea was already poised to go ahead with a satellite test.