Missing the Big Picture, US Policy on North Korea Could Bring Disaster by Paul Bracken, Yale Global
Watching North Korea again test an atomic bomb and long-range missile within four weeks of each other is like a repeat visit to a movie. The UN Security Council slaps enhanced sanctions on Pyongyang, actions that won't be implemented or observed, much like New Year's resolutions. China's disapproval is spun as a new "turning point" by the United States, supposedly because Beijing has finally lost patience with its ally.
The real intent of these moves is to get the North Korean tests out of the media spotlight -- thereby removing pressure to come to grips with what is developing in Northeast Asia.
Yet it would be a mistake to think that a "same old, same old" policy is playing out again. In my book on The Second Nuclear Age (Times Books, 2012) I emphasized the need for distinguishing between urgent problems, and those that were important but not necessarily urgent. Seen this way, the Middle East and ISIS are urgent challenges. They are immediate, play into the news cycle, and frankly, are what the vast majority of US attention focuses on.
Then there are important issues that are less urgent. North Korea could go on for a long time before something dire happens. The likelihood of an attack on South Korea or Japan appears no greater today than it did one year ago, or five years ago. We could be wrong, but it is reasonable to judge that while North Korea's nuclear missile buildup isn't good, it also isn't urgent. Most likely the problem will be passed on to the next administration, or kicked down the road beyond that…