Recent tests of short-range missiles by North Korea seem unlikely to portend any new major aggression by Pyongyang, but rather a flexing of its muscle for the new Biden administration, according to Virginia Tech political scientist Paul Avey.  

“The United States should not be particularly concerned with the latest North Korean missile tests. Under reaction is the better course of action than over reaction here,” said Avey. “It is common for North Korea to do some form of nuclear or missile test early in a new U.S. president’s term. To some extent it is surprising it took North Korea this long.”  

Avey, whose expertise is in nuclear politics, U.S. foreign policy and international relations, is not especially optimistic about the Biden White House’s ability to re-set relationships with North Korea.

“The bigger opportunity for President Biden’s administration is to re-set relations with South Korea and U.S. allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific more broadly. The U.S.-South Korean relationship was strained at times by President Trump’s rhetoric and policies,” according to Avey.  “Working with South Korea to ensure that they’re in a position to defeat any major North Korean provocations is a potentially beneficial approach.”

As a whole President Trump’s relationship with Kim Jong-un does not appear to have changed the underlying dynamics of the situation, says Avey.  

“Despite rhetoric of fire and fury and then high-profile diplomatic summits, North Korea continued to make progress on nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to deliver those weapons. Most of the international community continues to isolate North Korea as a result. It's not clear what the U.S. gained from the general approach.”

“The Biden administration will be open to a dialogue, but the precise features that takes and the terms both sides set for beginning any negotiations will determine how quickly they take place, if at all,” according to Avey.

Paul Avey was a 2018-2019 Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow based at the U.S. Department of Defense, serving as Advisor for Strategy in the office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development. He has a PhD in political science from the University of Notre Dame.

Read his full bio here.  

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