The Obama administration’s response to the steady drumbeat of threats issuing from North Korea in recent weeks could not have been clearer. “The United States will, if needed, defend our allies and defend ourselves,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said during his April 12 visit to South Korea. The American F-22 stealth fighter jets and nuclear-capable B-2 bombers that flew drills over South Korea in March and the two missile-defense ships that sidled up to South Korea earlier this month undoubtedly sent the same message.
As a crisis management policy, that message was exactly right. As a strategic signal of America’s future in the Pacific, its implications go far beyond the Korean Peninsula.
The immediate U.S. response was well-calibrated to this particular crisis. North Korean provocation is nothing new, but it has reached a hysterical pitch, even by North Korean standards, under its unpredictable young leader, Kim Jong Un. Kim’s intentions, whether they be extracting concessions from the international community or burnishing his military credentials for a domestic audience, are unknown. But the unambiguous U.S. position made it clear that the cost to North Korea of an attack on the South would be military retaliation. It also reassured South Korea that the United States would come to its defense.