Opinion writers take pride in linking Trump’s win to certain phenomena – a shifting Democratic base, contemptuous liberals, changing media landscapes, Trump’s radically different campaign and his calls for hard power, the Russians, the list goes on. As with foreign policy, electoral victory is dependent on innumerable factors, all aforementioned ingredients add in some way to the serving but it is no secret that Trump seeks to grow the military, increase the US’ hard powers and decimate the state department. The results start to show in the most serious crisis encountered by the Trump administration yet. Trump’s disconnect from the state department and the accompanying absence of thought and thoroughness is sadly unsurprising and, as he called for ‘fire and fury’ or even tougher action, the state department was predictably sidelined.
Ironic as it may seem shortly after the strictest batch of sanctions was passed, the regime’s prime export product remains free to cross the border: threats. Japan and the US, as well as the North’s southern neighbors, have been subject to its intimidation so frequently that, at first sight, it seems miraculous that none sparked an armed conflict. Over the years, there have been similar diplomatic moments of razzle-dazzle or, for a less British euphemism: a verbal tug of war. However you’d like to call it, commentators and analysts alike have not feared comparisons with the Cuban missile crisis or the invasion in Iran.
Although these crises often passed silently, this feud is quite different. For one, Mr. Kim’s statements are almost indistinguishable from the president’s and in a verbal battle between an autocratic all-controlling leader and a president whose praise for such absolute rulers has remained throughout his time in office, tensions rise high. Quite the contrary to previous years, when it was easy to sideline and ignore the DPRK’s supreme leader as a ‘rambling lunatic’. Most importantly, however, according to the Washington Post, the country is able to miniaturize its nuclear capabilities and aim its functioning inter-continental missiles at the US, meaning that the regime’s long awaited insurance policy is no longer merely the subject of speculation.
Despite my lack of expertise in the area, it’s easy to conclude that North Korea’s perspective is very simple; keep the regime in power. State media portray the US as a force of capitalism and evil, a force that simply aims to topple its praised government. The DPRK argues it can only persists if its nuclear arsenal is up to spec. With nuclear miniaturization a possibility and ICBM’s ready, it seems that such an arsenal is no longer a fantasy. The DPRK knows very well that Trump won’t attack since the regime has the capabilities to not only destroy Seoul but to obliterate US cities. On the other hand, the regime won’t attack the United States first since Washington will most certainly claim victory in the war that follows. This, then, is the impasse the world has reached.
The United States might like the option of regime change – it has a long tradition of crudely toppling regimes it dislikes – but, as John Cassidy writes in the New Yorker, Kim’s aforementioned insurance is paying off. However desired, the installation of a friendly government is not an option.
Robin Wright, also a staff-writer at the New Yorker, spoke to retired navy admiral and former vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James Winnefeld. His advice was simple: “Let them stow in their own juices … it’s a fools errand to expect China to solve this”. The Economist aligned with Winnefeld and noted that if diplomacy fails and military action has such horrific consequences, “the only remaining option is to deter and contain Mr. Kim”. As Cassidy notes, it would be an acknowledgement that US policies aimed at the North not acquiring nuclear weaponry has failed. Failing to concede to its own mistakes is typical for the US, note Iran and Iraq during Mossadegh and later Khomeini and Hussein for example. Leaving characteristic Washington megalomania aside, deterrence, together with a thoroughly reviewed personal statement by the president is the only viable and respectable option.
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