Trump and North Korea

Originally published at on 9th August 2017

AFTER a turbulent six months in office, it has become clear President Donald Trump’s White House – the most chaotic administration in living memory – is ill-prepared to tackle the myriad of complex challenges the world is currently facing.

Just looking back at events in Washington over the past two weeks, with surprise dismissals, in-house fighting, foul-mouthed tirades, allegations of collusion with Moscow, and a major legislative defeat on healthcare, there is an abundance of evidence to confirm Trump and his team are struggling to govern.

While the Trump administration has been preoccupied with its own dysfunctionality, North Korea – the gravest threat to American security – has been launching intercontinental ballistic missiles with the capability of reaching cities across the US, a milestone Trump declared he would not tolerate.

The North Korean missile launch on July 28 was the second intercontinental missile launch in July, with the earlier missile test being called a “gift” to “American bastards” on their Independence Day. According to American, South Korean and Japanese officials, the intercontinental missile flew for 47 minutes, taking a steep trajectory which sent it 2,300 miles (3701.5km) into space, before turning down and crashing into the sea near Hokkaido, Japan.

A senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, David C. Wright, announced the missile appeared to have a range of 6,500 miles (10460.7km), putting Los Angeles and Chicago “well within range”, Boston and New York possibly  “just within range,” while Washington was “just out of range.”

North Korea has yet the ability to use these missiles to deliver nuclear weapons, but the Defense Intelligence Agency has recently warned North Korean missiles will probably be able to deliver nuclear weapons within a year.

Just days after the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch, the US military detected “highly unusual and unprecedented levels” of submarine activity by North Korea, including evidence of “ejection tests” from a 1,800-tonne submarine armed with 14 torpedoes.

An ejection test refers to the method by which a missile is shot out of a submarine using pressurised air. Reports of successful ejection tests from a North Korean submarine were described as a “critical step forward” and analysts at Johns Hopkins University believe these drills are “preparations for a test in the near future of an updated Pukguksong-1 submarine-launched ballistic missile or a potentially newer system.”

Explaining the significance of these tests, Tokyo-based Nexial Research Inc president, defence analyst Lance Gatling said: “T“the whole point of putting missiles into a stealthy platform like a submarine is to achieve tactical surprise, and this moves closer to that.”

In response to North Korea’s latest round of military tests, Trump said, “By threatening the world, these weapons and tests further isolate North Korea, weaken its economy, and deprive its people,” warning that the US will “take all necessary steps to ensure the security of the American homeland and protect our allies in the region”.

Trump has previously declared he planned “pretty severe things” in response to North Korea’s tests. US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has said military action remains an option the US may resort to. Any US-led military action in the Korean peninsula would have had devastating repercussions.

The US has long held a “pre-emptive first strike” policy towards North Korea. If the US were to strike North Korea, the first targets would include nuclear and missile production facilities. However, it’s widely predicted North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would immediately retaliate, ordering a general mobilisation of the North Korean military and issuing a counterstrike, against the US or a US ally, such as South Korea or Japan.

The North Korean regime has legitimised its grip on power through propaganda which portrays the “US imperialists” as hostile aggressors who are planning to bring further devastation to the country which they attacked during the 1950s, dropping 635,000 tonnes of bombs, 32,557 tonnes of napalm and killing 30 percent of the population.

If North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un were not to retaliate to a US strike, his regime’s legitimacy and stability would be destroyed. Therefore, any US military action against North Korea will almost certainly lead to a massive military retaliation.

There are 83 US military bases in South Korea and there are over 50,000 US military personnel stationed in Japan, the mobilisation of these forces would lead to all-out war on the Korean peninsula. Given the proximity of North Korea to South Korea’s capital Seoul, a city of 25 million people, the outbreak of military conflict would be devastating. It has been estimated that with just conventional weapons North Korea could kill 64,000 South Koreans in the first three hours.

Furthermore, a full-scale war in China’s backyard would absolutely infuriate the leadership in Beijing. It’s difficult to predict how China would react to war in the Korean peninsula but Beijing may well, “supply their North Korean ‘allies’ with intelligence, satellite imagery, radar data and radio intercepts in order to prolong the conflict and perhaps prevent the final collapse of the North Korean regime on American terms.”

American forces operating in such close proximity with China’s border will increase tensions between Washington and Beijing, and there is every possibility that China could be drawn into the conflict.

All out war with North Korea is an alarming scenario and it’s clear that military action would be the worse possible option President Trump could choose. We can only hope that President Trump realises how disastrous America’s military campaigns have been in Afghanistan and Iraq and he will not be foolish enough to initiate a new conflict which could escalate into World War 3.

Kim Jong-un is well aware that the chance of the US launching an all out attack on North Korea remains improbability. Furthermore, US threats of military action can be manipulated by North Korean propaganda to enable Kim Jong-un to play the role of national protector, standing up to the bullying imperialists. Responding to the latest US threats, Kim Jong-un announced that such threats, “only strengthens our resolve and further justifies our possession of nuclear weapons.”

“I am very disappointed in China.”

Another option which President Trump has pursued was striking a “grand deal” with China which would encourage them to put pressure on the North Korean regime to end their provocations. It is believed that during President Trump’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping an agreement was reached that the US would give the Chinese president a pass on issues such as trade and South China Sea expansions for cooperation on North Korea.

However, in recent weeks the relationship between the US and China appears to be soured and realising the “grand deal” was falling to benefit the US, Trump employed his tactful diplomacy skills, attacking China on Twitter on Saturday claiming the country did “NOTHING” to thwart North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

  • “Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk. We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!” said Trump.

Chinese state media responded to Trump’s tweets, condemning the US President’s “emotional venting.” Moscow also criticised Trump’s Tweets, accusing the US of trying to “shift responsibility” for developments on the Korean peninsula, with the Russian foreign ministry releasing a statement: “We view as groundless  attempts undertaken by the U.S. and a number of other countries to shift responsibility to Russia and China, almost blaming Moscow and Beijing for indulging the missile and nuclear ambitions of the DPRK (North Korea).”

With Trump’s brash communications isolating the two superpowers with the greatest ability to influence North Korea, and military action in the Korean peninsula a calamitous option, it’s difficult to believe that Trump has a coherent strategy for dealing with Pyongyang.

Throughout Donald Trump’s election campaign, and his six months in office, he has been quick to criticise the actions and the policies of previous US presidents, promising that he would shake up the system, “drain the swamp” and get the job done. However, on multiple issues he has been unable to provide any realistic alternative policies and it is becoming clear that he has no idea how to deal with complex global issues. If President Trump has prepared a feasible plan for dealing with North Korea, he is certainly keeping his cards close to his chest.

At this stage, the North Korean regime is highly unlikely to cease their missile programme until they have proven to the world that they have the technology to deliver a nuclear weapon on an intercontinental missile. Once they have achieved this, they could be persuaded to come to the negotiating table.

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in has called for dialogue with the aim of establishing a peace treaty to permanently end the Korean War. In working towards this goal, China, Russia and North Korean diplomats have raised the possibility of a “freeze for a freeze” which would entail a freeze in North Korean missile tests in exchange for a freeze in US-South Korea military exercises.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the Trump administration would accept any such freeze in US military exercises, because it would give the impression they were rewarding North Korea’s aggressive behaviour, and Trump’s ego would not let him suffer such a public defeat.

This leaves the outcome of this precarious situation firmly in the hands of an unprepared and unpredictable president, with a tendency to shoot from the hip.

We can only hope that the president’s advisors restrain him from launching a military attack which could lead to a nuclear holocaust.


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