I wonder if Josh Rogin really means what he says in his most recent Washington Post column, expressing his dissatisfaction with the Biden Administration’s handling of North Korea:
Biden has shown little inclination to devote energy to North Korea. The State Department’s special representative is also a full-time ambassador. The White House hasn’t even bothered to nominate anyone for the positions of North Korean human rights envoy or ambassador to South Korea. Even if the vaccine offer does kick-start diplomacy, the Biden team may not want to devote time and effort to another low-reward, high-risk set of negotiations with the Kim regime.
But it must return to the negotiating process, said former nuclear negotiator Joel Wit, who notes that what happens in Pyongyang doesn’t stay in Pyongyang. An arms race is heating up in Northeast Asia, and North Korea is winning, he said.
“It’s trench warfare, and it’s ugly and unglamorous and politically fraught, but the administration has to find a way to sit down with the North Koreans, and maybe the foot in the door is vaccinations,” said Wit, now a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center.
China uses vaccines to coerce and threaten other countries. The United States should use them to build bridges, starting in North Korea but then on a global scale. Right now, our neglect of North Korea and several other poor countries is harming our health security and our national security, which are intertwined more than ever.
Do you honestly believe that giving COVID-19 vaccines to North Korea will do anything whatever to improve relations with the country? I don’t. Even if the Kim regime were to accept that offer (which I doubt), most North Koreans would not get them or would not know that what they were receiving came from the U. S.
My own view is that although the Biden Administration’s version of “strategic patience” is a bit more truculent than I’d like, ignoring North Korea is exactly the right thing to do. And if there’s one thing we should have learned by now it’s that negotiating with the North Koreans is an exercise in futility. If we are to return to the bargaining table about North Korea it should be with China not with North Korea. As I’ve said before, if you’re worried about your neighbor’s dog, you don’t discuss it with the dog.