Concerns arising over Biden's national security team     DATE: 2024-07-15 15:23:25

By Kang Seung-woo

As President-elect Joe Biden puts together his national security team, diplomatic experts here are expressing concerns that his policy toward North Korea may follow in the footsteps of the Barack Obama administration's "failed" diplomatic efforts.

Kurt Campbell / Yonhap
Kurt Campbell / Yonhap
On Wednesday (local time), Biden picked Kurt Campbell, a former assistant secretary of state for East Asia under former President Obama, as Indo-Pacific coordinator, a newly created position focusing on issues involving China.

"Campbell is an architect of the Obama administration's pivot to Asia and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), so he is a prestigious figure well-versed in issues involving the Asia-Pacific region. However, looking at the Biden team, there are no fresh figures, raising concerns that they may pick up where they left off in the Obama administration's foreign policy," said Park Won-gon, a professor of international politics at Handong Global University.

"Frankly speaking, the Obama administration's foreign policy is regarded as a failure. It neither contained China nor dealt with North Korea's denuclearization. As figures from the Obama administration's national security team will return, it is questionable whether they have changed their thoughts on the issues."

Shin Beom-chul, the director of the Center for Diplomacy and Security at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, said, "Campbell has a full understanding of issues involving Asia, so it would be unlikely for him and the Biden team to move away from their established framework and make drastic changes."

The Obama administration, in which Biden served as vice president, adopted a policy of "strategic patience" toward the North, which meant no engagement with the reclusive state as long as its leadership persisted with nuclear development and ballistic missile testing, but it was criticized because it did nothing to address these.

However, there is the possibility that the national security team may make fresh moves based on such past failures, according to the pundits.

"They have eight years of experience in handling the North Korea nuclear issue and some of them have acknowledged their failures, raising expectations that they may adopt new policies toward denuclearization," Park said.

The professor also predicted that the CIA may play a role in U.S. diplomacy with the North Korean regime.

"Under the Obama administration, the CIA was heavily involved in North Korea issues. In addition, William Burns, nominee for the CIA director, is a career diplomat, so the agency is also likely to get involved in U.S. efforts to denuclearize the North," Park said.

Campbell and Jake Sullivan, Biden's pick for his national security adviser, worked together for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and based on their past careers, they may seek to restore soured relations between Korea and Japan, Shin noted.

"As they stressed trilateral cooperation on intelligence-sharing between Korea, Japan and the U.S. at the time, the Biden team is expected to flex its muscles for reconciliation between Seoul and Tokyo as well as containing Beijing's assertiveness in the region," Shin said.

Relations between the neighboring countries have slumped to the worst level in years, sparked by Japan's imposition of export controls on three key materials critical for Korea's semiconductor and display industries in apparent retaliation for a ruling by the Korean Supreme Court ordering Japanese companies to compensate surviving South Korean victims of forced wartime labor.