2020 was a disaster for North Korea. Kim Jong Un helplessly watched his country’s already battered economy decay further amid the Covid-19 pandemic and border closures while brooding over the collapse of made-for-TV summits with former President Trump that failed to lift the sanctions from his country.
Joe Biden has previously called Kim a thug and accused Trump of creating scenes to get popularity instead of meaningful reduction of Kim’s nuclear arsenal. Now, Kim must ignore this and start all over again with President Joe Biden.
Though Kim has promised to strengthen his nuclear weapons program in his speeches at home, he also tried to start a conversation with U.S. mentioning that their relations with the U.S. will depend on whether Biden discards US policies, which according to him are very hostile.
Kim is known for his impatience and it’s unclear how patient Kim will be this time. He has a history of testing new US administrations with missile launches and other provocations forcing Americans back to the negotiation table.
In a recent Military parade in Pyongyang, Kim showcased new weapons he may test. It included North Korea’s biggest intercontinental ballistic missile and solid-fuel ballistic system designed to be fired from vehicles and submarines.
This would force the U.S. and South Korea to consider the possibility that Kim would never voluntarily deal away from the weapons he sees as his strongest way of survival.
Kim and his threat to U.S. and South Korea
In 2017, North Korea performed tests that included a detonation of a purported thermonuclear warhead and flight tests of ICBMs that demonstrate the potential to reach deep into the American homeland. This arsenal emerged as a major threat to the United States and its allies.
Next year, Kim initiated diplomacy with South Korea and the U.S., but it went in vain in 2019 when the U.S. rejected North Korea’s demands of major sanction relief in exchange for a piece deal partially surrendering its nuclear capabilities.
North Korea current situation
While border closure, sanctions, crop-killing natural disasters have created challenges for Kim, he won’t be in hurry to provide any concession. His government has high tolerance towards domestic issues. North Korea is also expecting aid from China its biggest ally.
Kim’s first provocation under Biden administration could be related to the submarine; launched a ballistic system which he showcased in recent parades.
North Korean leaders are trying to move diplomacy towards are reduction negotiation between nuclear states instead of fully giving up their nuclear weapons.
But North Koran probably won’t test weapons until after Biden’s State of Union address in February, where he possibly would set the tone of his policies towards North Korea.
“During a party congress, North Korea has made it clear it has no intention of budging first, but it is also interested in hearing what the U.S. has to say”.
Biden policies for North Korea
Biden has a long list of the domestic issue before giving any thought to other countries. North Korea won’t be on the top of the priority list. Biden is also gearing up for a push to get back into a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that Trump blew up in favor of what he called maximum pressure against Iran.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul said, the Biden administration’s policy sequence will likely be to Get America’s own house in order, strengthen US alliances and align strategies towards China and Russia, and then address Iran and North Korea.
“Biden will not inherit Trump’s top-down diplomacy, but you could expect him to be more flexible about working-level negotiations, offering to talk with North Koreans at any time and place”, said Shin who served as a South Korean diplomat during Obama’s presidency.
Shin expects that Biden would be able to make a deal with North Korea similar to the one Trump pulled out with Iran in 2018. It could provide North Korea some compensation for freezing its nuclear assets at the current level.