How did we get here? With North Korea I mean. Brandon J. Weichert writes at American Greatness,
...Given the size and disposition of the North Korean military—and the fact that Bill Clinton had campaigned on rebuilding the U.S. domestic economy—the United States went out of its way to avoid escalating any conflict. Instead, Clinton pressed the international community to negotiate a deal: the West would provide North Korea with economic and food aid in exchange for Pyongyang giving up its nuclear program. It was a stupid, one-sided bargain. In practice, the North Koreans rebuffed UN inspectors and lied through their teeth about compliance (with a wink and a nod from China) while United States and its allies handed over large sums of money, food, and fuel. The North Koreans were more than happy to take the money to enrich the regime’s leadership and—unsurprisingly—continue surreptitiously developing nuclear weapons.Read more here.
During the George W. Bush Administration, as America’s strategic focus shifted from Asia toward the Middle East, the United States relied on the Six-Party Talks (comprising mostly of regional actors) to bring an end to the continued nuclear brinksmanship of North Korea. They were unsuccessful. In 2006, North Korea tested its first nuclear bomb.
Shouldn’t China, which borders North Korea, be more worried than anyone about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program? No. The Chinese would rather placate the North Koreans. After all,the Chinese value stability on their border; they fear a unified Korean peninsula under Seoul’s control; they do not want American military bases popping up directly across from China’s border; and the Chinese fear the instability that would occur when millions of North Korean refugees would understandably flee their homes and attempt to gain entry into China. Plus, North Korea is a perpetual thorn in America’s side in the region. Each time North Korea precipitates a crisis in the region, it takes pressure off China diplomatically, and it allows Beijing to pretend to be America’s vital partner in Asia. From the Clinton to Trump Administrations, a growing consensus has formed among American policymakers that China holds the key to a peaceful resolution to the North Korea problem. Yet, until now, the Chinese have merely pretended to be interested in resolving the Korean dilemma.
...Also, China likely fears the deployment of America’s anti-ballistic missile defense system, THAAD, to the Korean peninsula. Missile defense doesn’t just deter North Korea, after all; China’s burgeoning nuclear arsenal is its greatest strategic asset and the real muscle behind its ambitions in East Asia and the Pacific.
...With recent reports that North Korea is but 18 months away from having nuclear weapons capable of hitting the continental United States, the Trump Administration’s response has been put into overdrive—especially as Kim Jong-un continues to make threatening gestures in a clear attempt to bring the United States back to the negotiating table. This isn’t surprising: North Korea’s periodic blackmail and extortion has worked well for the better part of two decades. Of course, President Trump is unlike his predecessors. And the clearly defined timetable leaves little wiggle room for the Trump Administration, the way that previous North Korean nuclear developments left room for Trump’s predecessors.