Just How New Is Joe Biden's 'New' North Korea Policy?

North Korea Review

Just How New Is Joe Biden's 'New' North Korea Policy?

The Biden administration claims that its new approach will be a middle ground between the strategies pursued by the Obama and Trump administrations.

Last week, it was announced that the Biden administration had completed a months-long review of its North Korea policy. The official revelation came from White House press secretary Jen Psaki during a press conference on board Air Force One.

According to Psaki, the administration’s policy will rely on a “calibrated practical approach,” that will include exploration of opportunities for diplomacy with North Korea and which will focus on achieving “practical progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies, and deployed forces.” The administration’s policy will also retain the goal of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Psaki also emphasized that the Biden administration’s policy will not rely on either achieving a grand bargain or the practice of strategic patience, references to previous approaches employed by the Obama and Trump administrations.

More details about the new policy were revealed in a Washington Post article that quoted administration officials involved in the review process. The policy is described as a phased approach to denuclearization built around step-by-step partial sanctions relief in exchange for partial steps towards that ultimate goal. Much like Psaki, officials quoted in the story stressed that the new policy is distinct from those of previous administrations, describing it as a middle ground between the Trump administration’s “everything for everything,” approach and Obama’s “nothing for nothing,” strategy.

The release of the North Korea policy review follows a speech by President Biden to Congress in which he described North Korea’s nuclear weapons program as representing a serious threat to U.S. and global security.

North Korea released a statement over the weekend threatening that the United States would find itself in a “very grave situation.” Analysts have suggested that these comments were in response to Biden’s speech labeling North Korea a threat rather than the unveiling of the administration’s new policy, and that they likely represent North Korean diplomatic posturing designed to allow the Pyongyang some flexibility in the future.

North Korea has in recent weeks continued to demonstrate its commitment to its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, including the launching of two short-range ballistic missiles and recent activity at its Yongbyon Nuclear Facility.

What the Policy Means Going Forward

Analysts have so far offered mixed assessments of the administration’s new policy. Some have argued that the phased-approach offered by the new policy represents the best chance of achieving some progress on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, and that it reflects an awareness that denuclearization in the near-term is not realistic.

Others have pointed out that the policy fails to offer a clear plan for how the administration intends to bring North Korea to the table for diplomatic negotiations. Recent comments by Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggest that the ball is in North Korea’s court.

Still others suggest that it is still too early to pass judgement on the policy, with specific details yet to be revealed. With South Korean President Moon Jae-In set to visit Washington for a meeting with Biden later this month, it is possible that additional elements of the policy will be made clear in the coming weeks.

Eli Fuhrman is a contributing writer for The National Interest.

Image: Reuters.