Here are two things that I love about “strategic patience,” particularly as it has been applied in American policy towards North Korea.
One, saying “strategic patience” declares a serious American intention to establish relations with North Korea that are civil, maybe even amicable and quite possibly mutually profitable. Ours is patience for an outcome.
Two, “strategic patience” requires a preference for diplomacy over war.
Here are two big problems I have with “strategic patience”:
One, the “patient” partner expects his patience to be rewarded, and if it’s not, there is the threat that the real objectives in a negotiation get submerged in issues of power and control. Don’t try my patience.
Two, inherent in patience is impermanence. Patience runs out. Often in irrational, unpredictable impulses that blurt, “Enough. It’s over.” And when diplomacy is over, war often follows.
There are in Washington people who are losing patience with Kim Jong Un; with his diplomatic stalling and weapons-building activity. They want to tell him, “time’s up.”
They pose this interesting, if extremely self-limiting question: “If we’re going to have to strike North Korea eventually, isn’t it better to do it sooner, before it is a real nuclear threat to the continental United States, then after?”
I don’t buy the premise that war is inevitable, much less the kinetic conclusion that we should “get in the first punch”! But, who can deny that North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un is more than enough to try anyone’s “strategic patience.”
Bruce W. Bennett is a senior international/defense researcher at the RAND Corporation who works primarily on research topics such as strategy, force planning, and counterproliferation within the RAND International Security and Defense Policy Center and the RAND Arroyo Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program.
Bennett’s work applies war gaming, risk management, deterrence-based strategy, competitive strategies, and military simulation and analysis. He specializes in “asymmetric threats” such as weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and how to counter those threats with new strategies, operational concepts, and technologies. He is an expert in Northeast Asian military issues, having visited the region more than 110 times and written much about Korean security issues. He has also done work on the Persian/Arab Gulf region.
His Northeast Asian research has addressed issues such as future ROK military force requirements, the Korean military balance, counters to North Korean chemical and biological weapon threats in Korea and Japan, dealing with a North Korean collapse, potential Chinese intervention in Korean contingencies, changes in the Northeast Asia security environment, and deterrence of nuclear threats (including strengthening the U.S. nuclear umbrella). He has worked with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, U.S. Forces Korea and Japan, the U.S. Pacific Command and Central Command, the ROK and Japanese militaries, and the ROK National Assembly.