Prospect of the U.S.-North Korea Relations after the U.S. Presidential Election
and South Korea’s Strategy
[Current Issues & Policies] No. 2020-32 (December 2020)
Dr. HONG Hyun-ik
Senior Research Fellow,
The Sejong Institute
As the Democratic Party’s former vice president Joe Biden is certain to win the U.S. presidential election, his impact on the future U.S.-DPRK relations and the situation on the Korean Peninsula draws attention. In this context, this article reviews the U.S.-DPRK relations during the transition periods of the past U.S. administrations that are similar to the current circumstance, analyzes the opportunities and challenges that Biden’s stance on North Korea policy give, and suggests South Korea’s countermeasures.
Obama had declared that he would develop diplomacy through “excessive and direct dialogue” with dictators of rogue states and raised expectations that he would send a special envoy to North Korea after his inauguration. But such anticipation was not realized. And rather than showing patience, North Korea responded with a long-range missile launch on April 5, 2009, and even conducted the second nuclear test on May 25. Therefore, the South Korean government should secure communication channels with foreign affairs and national security officials of Biden’s transition team, and persuade them that it is wise to pay attention to North Korea rather than to neglect or disregard it by showing that the U.S. is preparing to resume negotiations or seeking basic approaches and dialogue if possible, in order to not repeat the incident of 2009 and to deter additional provocations.
Biden, meanwhile, is highly likely to use his experience of pulling off a nuclear agreement with Iran at the time of vice president to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue. Moreover, Kim Jong Un is likely to respond to the Iranian style of nuclear agreement as this agreement promised to lift sanctions in return for Iran’s nuclear freeze. In this context, the South Korean government should encourage the Biden administration to build momentum for negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear issue by recommending that the U.S. can achieve both the national unity and the restoration of trust between the U.S. and North Korea if President-elect Biden, who proposed a national integration as the most urgent problem of the U.S., declares that he respects the Singapore agreement between the U.S. president Trump and the North Korean chairman Kim as the agreement serves as a cornerstone of bilateral relations.
Finally, the Biden administration is unlikely to place a high priority on the North Korean nuclear issue among its agendas. And thus, the South Korean government should become a de facto mediator of the U.S.-DPRK negotiation and a peace facilitator by filling out and suggesting the contents of an agreement and a timetable of implementation between the U.S. and North Korea and constantly developing outcomes in accordance with the opinions of Washington and Pyongyang. If Seoul succeeds in well managing challenge factors and confidently and intelligently utilizing opportunity factors of the Biden administration, it will be able to develop the ROK-U.S. alliance and at the same time, restore and advance a peace process on the Korean Peninsula.
▶ For a full article in Korean, please follow the link:
※ Translator’s note: This is a summarized unofficial translation of the original paper which was written in Korean. All references should be made to the original paper.
※ This article is written based on the author’s personal opinions and does not reflect the views of the Sejong Institute.