Joseph Yun, US envoy for North Korea for the State Department, decided to retire last Friday at the most crucial moment of the crisis yet.
Yun personally thought that the time is right for him to retire. Heather Naeurt, the spokesperson for the State Department, chimed in and said that he was retiring for personal reasons. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wanted Yun to stay and continue his role, but, in the end, Tillerson accepted the resignation “with regret.”
Yun hoped to end the crisis with diplomacy. So, he opened the back channel, otherwise known as the “New York” channel, to North Korea. Talking to the “Associated Press,” he remarked that the back channel “allowed for direct talks and direct communication.” However, Yun had difficulties in maintaining the channel because of North Korea’s “lack of engagement.” The “lack of engagement” refers to North Korea’s stubborn refusal to denuclearize. Talking through the back channel, North Korea proclaimed that they would never give up their nuclear program. However, the United States insisted that North Korea should denuclearize. Thus, the United States refused to acknowledge North Korea as a nuclear state, despite North Korea having the capability to develop two operational ICBMs.
The United States is still betting on the "maximum pressure campaign" after Yun's departure. But, the campaign might falter because Yun was very much involved in it. Without Yun's involvement, experts are worried over how the campaign would go from there. Nauert said that the maximum pressure campaign would still continue, but President Trump already acknowledged that the campaign might not work. Trump hinted at a "phase two," which was inferred to be the military option that may include the long rumored "bloody strike." As a hawk surrounded with many hawks like McMaster, Trump may very well go unleashed.
Yun, in contrast, advocated for denuclearization talks and was part of the small section of the administration that preferred diplomatic option than a “necessary” military option. With Yun leaving, the section just got smaller and less influential. Trump might feel embolden to do the military option that can cause "biblical casualties" because Yun would not be there to say "don't do it."
Overall, Yun's departure might cause a shift in the Trump administration's policy. The administration may say that they are continuing the "maximum pressure campaign," but they will eventually lose their patience once North Korea ramps up their nuclear testing again. Without Yun, the "maximum pressure campaign" will falter. And so, Trump might have to consider the "military option."