October 01, 2023

On North Korea, it’s not just the US that’s using ‘strategic patience’

Biden has prioritized China over the DPRK, and Beijing and Moscow have shown no urgency on denuclearization

Since the latter years of the Barack Obama administration, “strategic patience” has been a euphemism for playing it safe on the Korean Peninsula. It has become a term of disdain for both engagers and containers, as it is hostile to North Korea in appearance yet enables it in effect. Whatever else one says about Obama’s second-term policies — from sanctions to human rights denunciations — they did nothing to curtail the North’s weapons systems development.

The Trump administration in 2017 made a show of abandoning the strategy. Yet by the second half of President Trump’s term, when face-to-face diplomacy fizzled, it became apparent there was not a backup plan. We were stuck again with strategic patience: little diplomatic initiative from either side, few efforts to compel or entice change and no ground given as North Korean weapons development continued.