U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has named senior officials for his cabinet, by appointing Deputy National Security Advisor Antony Blinken as Secretary of State and former aide to Hillary Clinton Jake Sullivan as National Security Adviser. “I need a team ready on Day One to help me reclaim America’s seat at the head of the table,” said Biden announcing his picks. The transition process, which was stalled due to President Donald Trump’s refusal to cooperate, officially began on the same day.
Biden’s new foreign policy team is composed of skilled foreign policy experts. It is a clear sign that Biden will abolish President Trump’s “America First” policy and make a return to traditional U.S. diplomacy with an emphasis on restoring alliances and leadership. With Biden likely to put a major focus on diplomacy, the two newly appointed officials are expected to play a pivotal role, as Biden’s close and trusted aides, in breaking away from the radical approach of the Trump administration and returning to internationalism and multilateral cooperation.
As expected, Biden’s new foreign policy team has put South Korea in a position to consider fundamental changes in its diplomatic approach. A smooth recovery of relations is expected in terms of mutual alliance, such as escaping the pressure to shoulder a greater share of defense cost, but the two allies are likely to suffer from a number of frictions over the issues, such as North Korea’s nuclear programs and South Korea-Japan relations.
Above all, the Biden administration will adopt a different approach in dealing with North Korean nuclear issue: multilateral pressure diplomacy. Blinken and Sullivan played a key role in the Iran nuclear deal signed in 2015. Back then, Blinken suggested the Iranian approach in dealing with North Korea saying he thinks the U.S. still has “opportunities to move in the same direction with North Korea.” The key to the Iranian approach is strengthening sanctions to gain advantage in negotiations, cooperation with neighboring countries, and a step-by-step approach starting from working-level negotiations.
The nuclear deal with Iran was the product of tough negotiations. It took almost 20 months to finally sign the agreement after the two sides had agreed on the general framework of negotiations. It was also a sustainable agreement achieved together with major European countries. It is a solution that cannot be applied to North Korea unless it changes its stance of refusing to report nuclear weapons and insisting only on top-down nuclear diplomacy. If North Korea turns to its old provocation tactic again, the outcome will be nothing but “pressure and disregard.”
Despite such big changes, the Moon Jae-in administration has not even noticed the changes and is full of groundless confidence, talking about nonsense, from “chemistry between Democrats of Seoul and Washington” to “the possibility of the Biden administration inheriting Trump’s policies.” South Korea’s diplomacy for the past four years, which put top priority on inter-Korean relations, has not produced anything substantial. It only helped North Korea strengthen its nuclear capabilities and deteriorated South Korea’s relations with the U.S. and Japan. South Korea must find a way to normalize its diplomacy through re-examination of its overall foreign policy, including making a fundamental shift in its North Korea policy.