By: Connor Touhey
Since the beginning of the Trump Administration, there has been perhaps no bigger international relations story than the United States’ continued poor relationship with the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK). With North Korea’s seemingly constant missile tests and provocations towards a number of U.S. allies, the threat of conflict between the two nations is at its highest level since the 1950’s.
During nearly every American administration since the end of The Korean War, there has been at least some saber rattling. In recent years, President George W. Bush referred to North Korea as a part of the “axis of evil” and President Obama threatened the use of military force, while also imposing new sanctions on the country. A ridiculously built up Demilitarized Zone, massive military exercises in the region by both sides, and constant missile tests in the north continue to make the peninsula volatile.
Every President since the cease fire on the Korean Peninsula was instituted has used a similar strategy to keep the North Koreans from developing nuclear weapons: a mix of economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure on China, and small shows of force. However, every word said and every action taken by American leaders in the past have been carefully measured by the experts they surround themselves with. Military, economic, and diplomatic experts on the region were assigned to important posts in the Departments of State and Defense and within the White House, ensuring that no actions taken by the US would cause major loss of life for our country or for our allies. That time is now over.
Since the President’ Instead of working to avoid provocation and the potential loss for human life with measured words and careful actions, our President uses Twitter to provoke and threaten in 140 characters or less. His deputies are no better. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis have made vague comments on America’s North Korea position, seemingly unsure what to say since no coherent policy towards the country exists.
To this day, many of America’s most important appointments in the Korean Peninsula – including an ambassador to South Korea –remain vacant.
This is, perhaps, the most dangerous game of chicken played since the end of the Cold War.
It is unclear what the Trump administration’s endgame in North Korea truly is. If vague threats and angry tweets are meant to get the DPRK to agree to end their nuclear program, the absurdity of that plan cannot be overstated. North Korea While many hoped that recent leadership changes in the North after the death of Kim Jung Il would loosen the grip of authoritarianism on the nation, actions taken by the regime’s new leader, Kim Jung Un, demonstrate his lack of interest in giving up any power. Though Un has created new programs meant to bolster the nation’s economy and ensure the contentment of his people, military escalation and the vicious murder of Un’s brother, likely as a means of consolidating power even further, overshadows any progress the country has made under his leadership.
Any conflict with North Korea would almost certainly mean the loss of millions of South Koreans and Japanese, not to mention the tens of thousands of American military personnel stationed in the region and it would risk conflict with China as well.
More than likely, there is no plan within the Trump administration for a North Korea endgame. As with nearly everything during this Presidency, America is flying blind, hoping that nothing catastrophic happens in the meantime.