Tensions with North Korea have continued to escalate over the past week. On Friday, a North Korean missile test once again pushed the limits of its neighbors, sending a projectile flying 2300 miles away, over Japan, and into the Pacific Ocean. That test came in the wake of another underground nuclear test conducted only two weeks ago.
U.S. President Donald Trump delivered a harsh series of statements before the UN this week in relation to perceived continuing North Korean disregard for the demands of the international community. He chose to refer to Kim Jong Un with a derogatory nickname, saying that with his continued efforts at aggression, “rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime.”
He continued with the assertion that Kim would not survive an openly hostile military conflict, which would give the United States no choice but to, “totally destroy,” North Korea and that this makes his posturing relatively idiotic and meaningless. Many would tend to agree with Trump, although they might have chosen a more tactful approach.
On Wednesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed before the UN General Assembly that major world powers have run out of options when it comes to the North Korean regime, “What’s crucial now is to put sanctions into effect without lapses and that requires close cooperation with China and Russia.”
Abe also defended Trump’s statements about the North and agreed that enough time has been wasted, “dialogue was the best means of deceiving us and buying time.” The UN approved new sanctions earlier this month, enacting a ban on North Korean textile exports and a cap on crude oil imports.
Earlier today South Korea approved a controversial $8 million aid package to the North through UNICEF and the World Food Program. Unification Minister, Cho Myong-gyon commented, “We have consistently said we would pursue humanitarian aid for North Korea in consideration of the poor conditions children and pregnant women are in there, apart from political issues”
President Moon Jae-in, President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Abe will meet today to discuss the situation with North Korea. The South Korean leader has asserted the extreme extent to which, from his perspective, military conflict is undesirable. Last month he issued a warning to other nations saying that, “No one should be allowed to decide on a military action on the Korean Peninsula without South Korean agreement.”
For similar reasons, both Trump and Abe surely disagree with this stance. Part of the reason for this could be that a war on the Korean peninsula threatens significantly more damage (by several orders of magnitude) to either of the two Korean powers than to Japan or to the United States. Fundamentally a peaceful resolution to this war of words is the most desirable outcome and all three must share that common ground.
It is evident that President Trump has escalated the tension. In a situation like this it is difficult to determine whether or not this will turn out to be helpful. Intimidation toward the end of subjugation seems an unlikely tactic to meet with success in the near term.
South Korea’s Moon Jae-in was elected promising, in part, to push for more engagement with the North. Trump’s approach is certainly providing no lack of opportunities for engagement.
Only time will tell, however, whether a seemingly contradictory combination of threats of violence and token chunks of humanitarian aid will bring about any real positive change in the situation.