Following the collapse of diplomatic negotiations with North Korea in 2012, the Obama administration settled on a policy approach dubbed "strategic patience." That policy involved the gradually escalating application of nonviolent means of coercion as the North Korean nuclear problem that it purported to arrest grew more acute over time. But what led the Obama administration to adopt this confrontational yet timid approach to North Korea? Using a configurational analysis, this article proposes that the Obama-era policy of "strategic patience" had little to do with North Korea per se, and instead derived primarily from the intersection of three different factors: the prioritizations necessary as part of the US "rebalance to Asia" strategy; fear that South Korean aggression would pull the United States into an unwanted war in Korea; and a prevailing belief among many policymakers that the North Korean regime would eventually collapse under the pressures of its own contradictions. This combination of priorities and beliefs led the Obama administration to treat the North Korean nuclear issue seriously but not urgently, resorting to actions incommensurate with the nature of the problem.


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pp. 593-619
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