Last week, President Trump said that North Korea would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen”, signaling the next step of a very different strategy towards North Korea than the Obama administration. On the face of it, this may seem like a reckless, war provoking strategy, but when put into the bigger picture, this is a well thought out way of dealing with the problem of North Korea.
North Korea has been a problem for such a long time due to a couple of reasons- a long held resentment against the US after the war in 1950, and in more recent times the adoption by the US of an aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East. The rulers of North Korea at the time of the Iraq war would have recognized a big push by the west to remove dictators and impose democracy upon the nations that the west ‘liberated’, therefore in order to protect themselves from this, they went on the offensive. However, it is important to note that North Koreas Nuclear program began in 1956, and they conducted their first missile test in 1993, so recent US foreign policy is by no means the main cause of an aggressive North Korea, but rather reaffirmed in the minds of the North Korean leaders the need for an extremely aggressive foreign policy, to ensure what happened to Saddam in Iraq doesn’t happen to them.
Kim Jong-Un is a very clever man. He has created this image, that the western media has bought into, of being an unpredictable leader, who doesn’t know what he is doing, and everyday wakes up with his finger hovering over the nuclear button. Nothing could be further from the truth. The image of unpredictability is entirely fabricated and is perhaps his strongest attribute on the world stage, because it immediately makes other world leaders listen to him, for fear that he may decide to press the nuclear button if they don’t. He uses this fear to force leaders, like Obama, to cave on his demands. The regular threats of unleashing a nuclear arsenal on the USA are nothing more than that-threats. Lets think about what would happen if tomorrow for some bizarre reason Kim decides to fire a nuclear loaded ICBM at the USA. Firstly, the second any kind of missile leaves North Korean soil, the USA will know about it. Having determined that the ICBM’s were heading towards mainland USA, the ground based missile defense system in South Korea could take them down. If that fails, sea to air defensive rockets from US navy ships in the area could take them down. If that fails, there are 2 surface to air missile batteries based in Alaska and California. And if that fails, there are 36 interceptors at Fort Greely and at the Vandenberg Air Force Base. So, the US have a pretty good chance of defending themselves in the highly unlikely event that North Korea does decide to fire.
But the key here is not in whether the US would be able to defend themselves, but how they themselves would respond- it is likely that they themselves would fire their missiles in South Korea at them, which would completely decimate Pyongyang in hours, and other major cities, and may perhaps even decide to send an ICBM back at them. This would completely destroy Kim’s sole goal, which is to preserve the Kim regime for generations to come. And Kim knows this, which is why his threats of nuclear war are illogical and nothing more than threats, as initiating a nuclear war would be completely counter-productive for him.
Which brings me to why Trump has got this spot on. He knows that Kim will never fire anything at the USA, which is why he knows he can be verbally aggressive towards them, he knows he can keep pushing for more and more sanctions against them. By he himself creating an image of unpredictability, and showing that he would be willing to use force, he is attempting to show China that he is just as dangerous as Kim is, to try and force them to reduce trade and cut ties with them. This would be a huge blow to Kim, as China is crucial to North Koreas ability to keep on producing weapons. The seed of Trump being unpredictable and willing to use force was sown the first time he met with President Xi, when he abruptly interrupted a dinner to meet with his security advisors to co-ordinate the bombing of Syria, in retaliation to Bashar Al-Assads chemical attack on his own people. The strike was unexpected and unannounced, and showed President Xi that Trump was willing to back to up his promises with action, unlike Obama.
So, after 8 years of failed ‘strategic patience’, Trump is trying something different, which can only be a good thing. Time will tell whether he has played it correctly or not, but I get the feeling he has played this superbly, and the icing on the cake would be for President Xi to begin to slowly distance China from Kim and the North Koreans. Whilst it may seem like with Trump we live in more dangerous and uncertain times, the key difference is that the USA has a leader who is willing to confront these kinds of issues head on, and not avoid them and mislead the media to preserve their own reputation, which can only help to make our world a safer place.