The U.S. decision to focus on cooperation with North Korea appears to have been a mistake, a senior fellow at a Washington-based think tank said after the withdrawn state conducted four missile tests in one month.
U.S. President Joe Biden "chose only engagement," said Anthony Ruggiero of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. "That was his policy in 2021. He did not sanction any of North Korea's nuclear missile programs in 2021."
"It now turns out to be a mistake, because as you said, the fourth missile test today. And I'm sure there will be more, as you noticed, we are not even halfway through January," he told CNBC's "Street". Sign Asia "on Monday.
The state news agency KCNA reported that two tactical guided missiles were fired on Monday, adding that they "accurately hit an island target in Korea's East Sea."
"The Academy of Defense Science confirmed the accuracy, safety and effectiveness of the operation of the weapons system during production," the KCNA said.
The South Korean presidential office said North Korea's repeated missile launches were an "extremely deplorable situation".
Japan's Ministry of Defense assessed that the missiles landed outside its exclusive economic zone, and strongly condemned the launches, NBC News reported.
"Atrophy" of sanctions against North Korea
The United States did not respond strongly despite North Korea's many missile launches in 2021, Ruggiero said.
"When you allow the sanctions to atrophy and you do not respond to ballistic missile launches that took place in the autumn, I think [North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's] the answer was, 'Well, that's okay,' he said.
"Now the Biden administration has said 'No, that's not OK to do'."
The United States last week announced sanctions against eight people and units for their work in developing weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile-related programs for Pyongyang. It happened after at least two known North Korean ballistic missile tests.
"I think it's a good first start," Ruggiero said. "But there is much, much more they need to do."
He said previous administrations in the United States had made the mistake of seeing negotiations with North Korea as an achievement in itself. "It is not," he added.
The bite could increase the pressure and impose sanctions when North Korea tests missiles even though negotiations are underway, Ruggiero said.
He also said the two sides appear to be "far from committed."
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said on Friday that North Korea should be offered humanitarian aid when it is willing to engage again, but its threats should not be rewarded with international recognition or sanctions.
"North Korea is trying to set a trap for the Biden administration. It has lined up missiles, which it still wants to test, and is responding to US pressure with further provocations in an attempt to blackmail concessions," he said in an email. after North Korea's third launch this month.
Calls North Korea 'bluff'
Pyongyang has little room for escalation due to its internal challenges and its need for restraint during the Winter Olympics in Beijing, Easley said.
"Washington and its allies should call the Kim regime's bluff by increasing US-South Korea-Japan security cooperation and strengthening the enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions," he said.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said recent missile launches "highlight the destabilizing effect of the DPRK's illegal weapons program", citing North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"The United States' commitment to defend the Republic of Korea and Japan is still iron-clad," it added.