Can Biden Get Relations With Russia and North Korea Right?

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January 19, 2021 Topic: Security Region: Security Blog Brand: Korea Watch Tags: RussiaNorth KoreaJoe BidenDiplomacyOpen Skies Treaty

Can Biden Get Relations With Russia and North Korea Right?

Biden has a lot of domestic tasks to urgently attend to, but he will still have to formulate a good foreign policy.

We will soon find out what type of Commander-in-Chief President-elect Joe Biden will be, especially when it comes to North Korea, China, and Russia. During the second half of the twentieth-century, there was a common adage: “If you want a good economy vote Democrat; if you want to stay out of a war vote Republican.” With regard to war, in particular, although it might appear simplistic, the trend is undeniable. Whether one examines the Vietnam War, the Korean War, World War II, or World War I, the major beginnings of each were all under Democratic administrations. There are a variety of reasons for the above trend. However, one reason is that it appears that Republicans, during the twentieth century, put more of an emphasis on initiating dialogue with America’s adversaries than did Democrats. Whether it was President Ronald Reagan working an end to the Cold War or Henry Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy, improving relations with adversarial nations was an emphasis of Republicans during this period.

As President-elect Biden announces his policy emphasis, it is very heavily domestically-weighted. This article is not meant to criticize that emphasis. Clearly, there are many domestic concerns. The coronavirus patently leads that list. Many are suffering. Nevertheless, even the coronavirus has major international components, not the least of which is that it originated in China. A recent Pew poll indicated that China’s deceptive handling of coronavirus has caused its favorability ratings to nosedive in all fourteen of the advanced nations in the survey, so that it was viewed unfavorably in all of them. Biden needs to propound a strategy of where he wants to go with China.

President-elect Biden needs to provide direction regarding relations with North Korea. Under the Trump Administration, relations with North Korea dramatically improved and Biden has shown no inclination to recognize this fact. Instead, Biden has called Kim Jong-un a “thug.” Kim Jong-un, for his part during his ruling party’s congress, pledged to work towards a higher standard of living for North Koreans and a better relationship with the rest of the world. The juxtaposition of these concepts in the same speech appears to indicate that he would welcome warmer relations with the United States. He clearly hopes that a higher level of economic prosperity will result. However, concurrently, at the very same congress he warned the incoming Biden Administration that he planned to develop more nuclear weapons. Kim Jong-un was indubitably offering Biden a choice. The new American leader can either build on the progress of the Trump Administration’s advances with North Korea or return to the bellicose state of affairs that existed during the Obama-Biden years. One can only hope that wisdom will prevail and that Mr. Biden will propound a policy that builds upon the successes of the Trump Administration in dealing with North Korea.

The U.S. relationship with Russia is another area where President-elect Biden needs to build upon previous progress, i.e., President Ronald Reagan’s agreements with Mikhail Gorbachev, which ushered in the end of the Cold War. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has cautioned politicians who are too quick to try to isolate Russia. Henry Kissinger also asserts the U.S. Government has lost is strategic focus because, “breaking Russia has become an objective; the long-range purpose should be to integrate it.” By “dislocating” Russia out of Europe, we are contributing to its increased leaning toward China.

President Putin has promulgated his position that he believes that Biden and his colleagues have been too quick to label Russia as the villain in numerous activities. Much like Kim Jong-un of North Korea, President Putin delivered a two-pronged message to President-elect Biden. First, Putin delivered a relatively warm and open congratulatory letter in December stating that he is “ready for collaboration.” Second, about a month later, Putin announced that Russia is pulling out of the Open Skies Treaty. Putin, like Kim Jong-un, is offering Biden a choice. There are a few paths forward. One is especially relevant, given the unveiling of the Reagan-Gorbachev statue in downtown Moscow in 2017. How about scheduling two Biden-Putin summits, the first at the Reagan Library in California and the second at the Gorbachev Foundation in Moscow?

Ideas have consequences, but also actions and inactions have consequences. As vital as domestic issues are, President-elect Biden will need to also take wise and appropriate action on foreign relations. We need to hope and pray that he will.

William Jeynes is a professor at California State University at Long Beach and a Senior Fellow, at Witherspoon Institute at Princeton.

Image: Reuters.