The relations between North Korea and United States of America are hostile since the cold war. Since the Korean war United States of America has deployed a strong military in South Korea and provides South Korea with positive security assurance. President George W. Bush during his term referred North Korea as “The Axis of evil” because of its advancements in nuclear capabilities. There are no formal diplomatic ties between the two states whereas, the Kingdom of Sweden which is an EU member state protects the power of America in North Korea.
On 6 January 2016, the government of North Korea detonated a hydrogen bomb. Shortly after on 7th February it launched a rocket carrying satellite. The UNSC has condemned the act. Such tests were not something new by the North Korean regime. Three successive American Presidents; Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have dealt with the threat posed by the rogue state. Despite these three Presidents failed to counter the developments of North Korea but America for sure has learned from the past experiences.
Bill Clinton’s foreign policy towards North Korea can be referred as carrot diplomacy; agreed framework. Whereas, The Bush administration had a total different approach. Rather than going for negotiations and agreements he sought regime change.
In 2003, North Korea withdrew from the NPT and, in April, admitted for the first time to the possession of nuclear weapons. These events prompted the Six-Party Talks between the United States, South and North Korea, China, Russia, and Japan in August 2003.
However, having learned the lessons from the Clinton administration, the Bush administration complied with its “dismantle first, talk later” policy. The talks stretched for years and in 2006 North Korea launched its nuclear and missile tests and withdrew from the talks in 2009.
George W. Bush’s goal of regime change and agreement on denuclearization failed and vanished the hopes of America. He clearly underestimated the North Korean regime.
Barack Obama’s policy was of no carrots no sticks. He had offered negotiations in his inaugural speech but North Korea responded with nuclear test and missile tests. Obama then shifted his policy to strategic patience. A commitment to denuclearization as a precondition for talks, conducted in close alliance with Seoul and the other members of the Six-Party Talks.
Leap Day Agreement, a bilateral agreement was signed between Washington and Pyongyang, but it fell apart only three weeks later because of the failed satellite launch by Pyongyang. The attempt to persuade China to exert pressure had failed. UN Security Council agreed to toughen sanctions on North Korea in response to its most recent tests, but China remained reluctant to put too much pressure on the regime. The policy of strategic patience proved to be least bad and costly for United States of America.
North Korea’s advancements in nuclear and ballistic missile program is one of the most serious national security challenges that Donald Trump faces as president. The new administration has a narrow window of opportunity to alter the U.S. policy towards North Korea and seek a lasting arrangement that halts and then ultimately rolls back Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. USA might have a shift in its foreign policy regarding North Korea. Donald Trump on April, 2 in an interview with the Financial Times stated that “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will”. This statement and his war like tone suggests his willingness to take unilateral military action.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made remarks in Seoul that “China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t,” he says. “If they do, that will be very good for China, and if they don’t, it won’t be good for anyone.” He added, “Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended.” Tillerson also eliminated the possibility of negotiating with North Korea before it gives up its weapons of mass destruction. Such remarks by US Secretary of State and President Donald Trump seems to be a radical shift in America’s policy.
Obama administration supported US alliance with South Korea and approved the deployment of THAAD missile defense system, but Trump administration devalues the strategic alliance between USA and South Korea.
North Korea would not give up its nuclear program at any cost so far as it is the only thing that keeps the regime alive. It might also consider its nuclear program more important than its relations with China. The situation which makes North Korea different from Iran is that Iran wanted to rejoin and become a normal member of International community while North Korea wants to hide from it.
It is assessed that North Korea has the capability to deliver a warhead on a short or medium range ballistic missile, threatening America and its allies. But if North Korea remains on its current trajectory, it could soon be testing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) which would pose a direct threat to the continent of United States and upset the security situation in East Asia.
Kim Jong-Un stated in his annual New Year’s address on Jan. 1, 2017, that North Korea “will continue to build up” its nuclear forces… as long as the United States and its vassal forces keep on nuclear threat and blackmail and as long as they do not stop their war games they stage at our doorstep disguising them as annual events.”
North Korea is also advancing in SLBMs. John Schilling, an aerospace engineer, suggests that North Korea could initially field this capability in the second half of 2018. If North Korea can successfully field nuclear-tipped SLBMs, it would pose a regional threat, but given the nature of North Korea’s submarines and the estimated range of the SLBM, it is unlikely to pose an intercontinental threat.
Considering North Korea’s continued production of fissile material and its ballistic missile activities, the threat continue to grow, unless checked or countered. The direct threat posed by North Korea to the United States of America, South Korea and Japan and the possibility that Pyongyang will transfer nuclear technology abroad to earn hard currency cannot be ignored. Maintaining the current policy will not slow down North Korea’s advancements and more robust missile defenses provide only a partial defense for the United States and its allies, at best.
US policy that seeks to negotiate, followed by exertion of pressure if North Korea scuttles diplomatic efforts, is still no guarantee of success but is the most promising approach.