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Follow South Korea’s Lead: How America Can Push Back on North Korea

North Korea Hwasong-17 ICBM. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
North Korea Hwasong-17 ICBM. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Response to North Korea Missile Launch Model for Future U.S. Policy? – Kim Jong-un is at it again. On June 5, the Supreme Leader of North Korea launched eight short-range ballistic missiles from four locations. The response may have been something he did not expect—and there might be a lesson here, not just for Kim, but for the rest of the world as well.

The U.S. and South Korea answered Kim by firing eight short-range missiles to demonstrate allied capabilities and resolve. Obama would never have done this. Considering that the Biden administration is basically the Obama administration with a different headliner, the obvious question is: Why the more robust response now?

Perhaps the answer lies not in the White House, but with South Korea’s new president. The recently inaugurated conservative administration of Yoon Suk Yeol has vowed to implement a firmer, more principled policy than his predecessor in responding to North Korean provocations. His goals match our bilateral interests. The strong allied response appears to be clear evidence of this.

It’s not surprising that the Biden administration would go along Yoon. It’s not like they had come up with any better ideas for dealing with North Korea.

So, what does the future hold for the peninsula? This month’s missile tit-for-tat suggests we are in for a series of tense times ahead. After a brief hiatus, North Korea resumed missile launches in 2019. Since Biden entered the Oval Office, Kim has ramped up those efforts, logging 30 launches so far in 2022. Meanwhile, American and South Korean officials report that North Korea has completed preparations for another nuclear test, which would be the first since 2017.

Expect Biden to go along with the South Korean president’s preference for deterrence rather than appeasement. That cooperation ought to open up other opportunities for U.S.-South Korea cooperation. Deepening our partnerships in Asia should be a priority. Both Washington and Seoul would definitely benefit from broadening and deepening their partnership in other areas. One priority ought to be cybersecurity. Another ought to be tri-lateral cooperation with Japan.

What is important to note here, however, this looks to be a case of our allies pulling us forward to be more prominent, proactive, and engaged—and doing it the right way, not asking the U.S. to carry the load but to partner in common interest and share the burdens, responsibilities, and the benefits.

North Korea Policy as a Model 

This North Korea policy formula that can work elsewhere. Europe is a case in point. There are tough tasks ahead to immunize NATO against future destabilizing threats from Russia and China. The UK, North, Central, and South Europeans can and need to drag the U.S. into taking the right next steps, steps that are in our own interests.  This is true in the Middle East as well, where our friends and allies ought to making the case to walk away from the Iran Deal and back to embracing maximum pressure, the Abraham Accords, and economic, diplomatic and security cooperation.

Rather than debating what theater to pivot to and which to ignore, the Biden administration needs to determine our core national interests in each region and then work with our friends and allies to pursue them.

A Heritage Foundation vice president and 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, James Jay Carafano directs the think tank’s research on matters of national security and foreign relations.

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, James Jay Carafano, a leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges, is the vice president of Heritage's Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy and the E. W. Richardson Fellow.