The US Is Too Lethargic To Act against North Korea’s Nuclear Arms

U.N. sanctions and North Korea-U.S. talks have all ceased.

U.S. Congress concerned over lack of deterrence against North Korea

On June 2, three days after North Korea launched a military spy satellite, the New York Times published an article titled “Why North Korea’s Latest Nuclear Claims Are Raising Alarms.” “The world is now seeing what comes next: a bigger, more dangerous nuclear arsenal that poses a greater threat to the United States and its allies in Northeast Asia,”* it said, listing photos of North Korea’s tactical nuclear weapon Hwasan-31 and solid-fuel ICBM Hwason-18.

Concerns are rising in the U.S. over North Korea’s advances in nuclear weapon and missile technology. Analysts say that although some aspects, such as atmospheric re-entry capacity, remain untested, North Korea should be considered to have a second-strike capability to carry out nuclear counterattacks on the U.S. mainland.

The Biden administration is also emphasizing that it will hold Kim Jong Un and his regime accountable for the launch of the spy satellite. While the Biden administration has pursued discussions with North Korea, it has also adopted a policy to pressure it by reinforcing the Extended Deterrence strategy and enacting sanctions to block nuclear weapon and missile development if North Korea declines negotiations. The problem is that none of the three pillars of the administration’s policy toward North Korea is working properly.

It is long past the halfway point for the Biden administration, which has emphasized diplomacy as the only solution to North Korea’s nuclear weapons, but it seems that the administration has given up hope for dialogue with North Korea.

It is not the first time the U.N. Security Council, which should play a central role in economic sanctions against North Korea, has been rendered useless. China’s claims at the Security Council have already gone beyond simply defending North Korea.

In an open meeting of the Security Council on June 2, Chinese Deputy Permanent Representative to the U.N. Geng Shuang stated that the U.S., “driven by its geopolitical self-interests,” decided to send strategic submarines to the Korean Peninsula with the Washington Declaration. The implication is that South Korea and the U.S.’ agreement on the Washington Declaration is targeted at China, and the North Korean nuclear issue can be solved only by halting Extended Deterrence.

China stubbornly backs North Korea by insisting that the concerns of “all parties involved” should be considered, while ignoring South Korea’s reasonable security concerns and criticizing defensive deterrence measures. This sort of mindset would be hardly imaginable if China did not see South Korea as a pawn in the U.S.-China geopolitical conflict.

Nevertheless, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Bonnie Jenkins said on June 6 that it is challenging to immediately hold North Korea accountable for the spy satellite, citing China and Russia’s opposition to the sanctions.

Strengthening Extended Deterrence, while being actively discussed, also holds uncertainties. GOP Representative Mike Turner, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said on June 4 that “The concept of deterrence […] is dead.” Although the Biden administration promised to strengthen its nuclear umbrella in exchange for South Korea’s giving up nuclear weapons development, even mainstream U.S. politicians have openly expressed doubts about the U.S.’ nuclear deterrence strategy against North Korea.

The U.S. sees North Korea’s nuclear arms as a problem to be solved through U.S.-China cooperation. Coincidentally, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to visit China on June 18. However, as there are already numerous pending issues between the U.S. and China, such as the ban on Micron chips, the Taiwan Strait, the South China Sea and the Ukraine War, it is unclear whether North Korea will be considered a high-priority topic. This time, I hope that the U.S. could achieve something else than the usual “encouragement for China’s constructive role”* in the conflict.

*Editor’s Note: These quotes, while accurately translated, could not be independently verified.

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