A crisis deftly handledOver the past year, North Korea has become an increasing threat to the security of the United States. Its nuclear program has made leaps and bounds, culminating in the November 29 testing of the new Hwasong-15 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, which has been assessed by the Central Intelligence Agency to have the entirety of the United States within range. With these new developments, it is imperative for President Donald Trump’s administration to maintain its tough stance on the Hermit Kingdom and its eccentric Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. In particular, the Trump administration’s shift towards possible preemptive military action injects much-needed edge and urgency into a situation that the United States has been delaying for far too long.
North Korea has been resistant to sway even after 25 years worth of talks and negotiations. Denuclearization is unrealistic as an objective; such a process would threaten to destabilize the entire regime thus it is off the table for Kim. The regime has shown time and time again that it is willing to make any sacrifices necessary for its nuclear program, including the well-being of common people. Even if a deal of some sorts were to be struck, the old adage “once a cheater, always a cheater” comes to mind — Pyongyang’s violation of the terms of the 1994 Agreed Framework inspires little confidence in a successful new deal, especially when considering how much more developed the North Korean nuclear program is now compared to 20 years ago.
The administration implemented its first notable policy change on August 8, when Trump promised that North Korea “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Though somewhat crudely worded, Trump’s willingness to consider military action as a possibility is exactly what is needed to deal with an increasingly aggressive and capable North Korea with ICBMs capable of reaching anywhere in the continental United States. If a missile were to hit somewhere as populated as New York City, or as crucial to the legal system as Washington D.C., not only would it cause unforeseeable deaths, but it could also lead to the collapse of the American government.
Trump is not afraid to make people well aware of that. In front of the United Nations, Trump warned that he would “totally destroy” North Korea if threatened. Since other negotiation avenues have fallen short, the only way to get through to North Korea is using the threat of direct military action. Trump understands this and has told us that “talking is not the answer” when dealing with North Korea. Although the fear-mongering mainstream media has tried to portray Trump and his administration as hell-bent on starting war, military action is still a last resort, as it was in previous administrations. What’s changed is a greater willingness to utilize the threat of a preemptive strike as a bargaining chip — one that will put real pressure on the Kim regime to accept international demands — or else.
Imminent nuclear disasterEarly in 2017, as North Korea accelerated its missile building process, President Donald Trump’s administration responded with tough talk, threatening the total annihilation of the Kim Jong-Un regime. Unfortunately, North Korea called this bluff and continued ramping up its efforts to load nuclear warheads on missiles capable of hitting the continental United States. The president and his team, realizing they had a losing strategy, adopted another set of policies — unfortunately also incoherent.
The challenge in dealing with North Korea is two-fold. First, the country has a cultish worship of its “supreme leader” Kim Jong-Un, well known in geopolitical circles for his irrationality and petulance. As surmised by Senator John McCain, Kim is a “crazy little fat kid.” However, the problem is exacerbated by the North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons, capable of efficiently murdering millions of people in nearby South Korea and Japan. Furthermore, history informs Kim that those nuclear weapons are crucial insurance, necessary to prevent foreign induced regime change. Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein both moved to abandon their nuclear programs and were subsequently overthrown and killed. This makes Kim both difficult to engage in meaningful diplomatic talks, as he is insistent upon maintaining his nuclear program.
The Trump administration’s new strategy relies mainly on proving to North Korea that its nuclear program is more of a liability than an asset to their government’s long term stability. The Trump administration has naively placed their faith in China, hoping Beijing would cut off North Korea’s last source of economic life — the Chinese black market trade. However, this faith is misplaced. Not only is China reluctant to apply further economic pressure to North Korea due to fears of an economic refugee crisis that might ensue, but China also has wildly different goals with regard to North Korea than the United States China certainly does not want to see peninsular reunification under Seoul, putting both the United States and U.S. allied troops directly on its border. This miscalculation on Trump’s part seems to be part of a wider flaw in his foreign policy.
Trump seems to believe that actions and policies operate in vacuums. His short-sighted and rash actions abroad, such as withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Paris Climate Accords, as well as adoption of actions seen abroad as unilateralist, have undermined U.S. international credibility. Seemingly unbeknownst to the president, this bears negative implications for his North Korea agenda. In order to truly deescalate the situation, a coordinated and comprehensive strategy will need be enforced; the possibility of which decreases drastically as the United States relinquishes its leadership.
The new North Korea policies are a staple of the Trump Doctrine: naïveté mixed with all the coarseness and immaturity possible to be captured in 140 characters. Handling Pyongyang is complicated, and there is no obvious, one-size-fits-all course of action. With the aggressive and foolhardy way Trump is managing the situation, however, pray that higher life-forms than cockroaches will still be around in a few years to tell the tale.