North Korea just tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that can carry a nuclear warhead to any target on earth — and the Biden administration doesn’t give a damn.
Or at least, in any case, it hopes you don’t give a damn.
You see, Team Biden came into office knowing that its options on North Korea were pretty limited. There was, of course, the option to get tough on North Korea and to look to ensure the portly pariah of Pyongyang, Kim Jong Un, held firm to not testing missiles that can hit the US homeland.
But the White House seems to have determined that it would be better to craft a strategy to bury the problem instead, and it had the blueprint in hand to do it.
So down the rabbit hole we went. The administration early on conducted a three-month policy review on North Korea and never rolled out a plan that was even remotely concrete. What it decided on amounts to two words: Let’s talk.
That should not be surprising. The Obama foreign-policy geniuses had the same strategy, except they had a name for it: strategic patience. It boiled down to offering North Korea dialogue and talks on ending its nuclear program in exchange for some sort of concessions down the road.
Here is where things get really strange. Until the day North Korea pulls up a chair to talk nukes, Presidents Barack Obama and now Joe Biden have had zero to offer on the subject. Talks are the policy. No talk, no policy.
Except for one problem: The North Koreans don’t want to talk. Well, they might, but not unless they know what they’re talking about. And just giving up their nuclear weapons right off the bat isn’t exactly a conversation starter for them.
So is it really that surprising that during the Obama-Biden years North Korea created the technological foundations to build nuclear weapons and long-range missiles (though its population was starving amid a GDP one-third the size of Ethiopia’s)? Those efforts were bearing fruit just as Donald Trump was entering the Oval Office.
The bad news: North Korea is just getting warmed up. Pyongyang has already told the world it wants tactical nuclear weapons — you know, the small atomic weapons Russia keeps threatening to use against NATO and Ukraine. And that means more nuclear weapons tests are in the offing.
Then there’s the proliferation issue. North Korea already sells large amounts of missile technology to Iran. One could easily see a scenario where Pyongyang helps Tehran build its own ICBM technology or perhaps even helps the regime develop its own nuclear device.
North Korea, in many respects, is geopolitical cancer. You can ignore it, but the disease will spread. And in this case, the disease is weapons of mass destruction.
The good news: There’s a cure. North Korea needs to know we mean business and we can easily deter anything they do. Biden must work closely with new conservative South Korean President Yoon, who’ll be taking office soon in Seoul. Both allies must reboot military drills at once and build readiness back up after years of declines. South Korea must increase its missile defenses and also work closely with Japan on this issue.
Talks with North Korea could be possible, but not until we show Pyongyang our forces are ready for any contingency.
If Biden continues to hope the world is looking the other way on North Korea, we face a dangerous reality: The rogue regime could soon have a massive arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles that could kill the vast majority of Americans in less than 30 minutes.
That is a future we must avoid at all costs.
Harry J. Kazianis is the senior director at the Center for the National Interest.