US foreign policy: A perfect storm is brewing
October-December 2017
By: Reva Goujon

Pyongyang and Washington have passed the point of viable negotiation. North Korea is on track to develop a nuclear deterrent, and as it nears the point of possessing a reliable nuclear weapon and delivery system capable of striking the continental United States, Washington will be compelled to seriously consider military action against it. That decision will fall to the Trump administration, perhaps within the next 18 months. In trying to forgo military action, the United States will be forced to rely on China and Russia’s cooperation regarding sanctions or covert action intended to destabilize the North Korean government and thwart its nuclear ambitions. Yet even as Washington pursues this policy out of diplomatic necessity, it knows it is unlikely to bear fruit. Because as much as they dislike the idea of a nuclear North Korea on their doorstep, China and Russia do not want to face the broader repercussions of an unstable Korean peninsula or open the door to a bigger US military footprint in the region.

And so, the two states will try to get as much as they can out of negotiations with the United States as they try to push Washington toward inaction. Unable to rely on the clout of China and Russia to moderate North Korea’s behavior, the United States will resist their demands to curb its military presence in the Asia-Pacific as North Korea’s nuclear threat mounts. Washington’s need to address the North Korean threat will thus clash with Beijing’s own imperative to consolidate its maritime sphere of influence, raising the stakes in an increasingly complicated conflict zone.

The beat of the war drums in Northeast Asia is deafening compared with the low rumble emanating from Venezuela, Iran and Russia. But it is the confluence of these crises, some of which are more avoidable than others, that risks creating a foreign policy cacophony that even the political squabbles in Washington won’t be able to drown out in the months to come.

Reva Goujon is vice president of global analysis at Stratfor, the US-based global intelligence firm, with which Strategic Review has a content-sharing agreement.

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