Australian Foreign Policy/ Foreign Affairs · North Korea · The Donald Trump Presidency

President Trump’s brash escalation with North Korea


Speaking to reporters at a New Jersey golf course, President Trump promised to unleash ‘fire and fury like the world has never seen’ on North Korea, should it continue to threaten the United States.

And yet, the North Korean response spoke volumes as to the extraordinary improvidence of Trump’s remarks.

Almost hours later, the regime doubled down in its bellicosity, warning it was ‘carefully examining’ a plan to strike the US Pacific territory of Guam.

Before we ponder the prospect of nuclear war, which Trump’s proposed ‘fire and fury’ seems to imply, it is worth considering the facts as a whole.

True, North Korea is led by a madman in Kim John- un, whose isolation from the world perennially enhances global uncertainty.

Moreover, unlike Iran, no major agreement has been reached on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which makes predicting the rogue nation’s next move especially difficult.

However, the caricatures of North Korea as some collection of suicidal communists bent on starting nuclear war, are misleading.

Kim Jong- un

It seems absurd that the world is perhaps closer to nuclear conflict than ever before, and there remains no widespread discussion of North Korea’s stated grievances against the West. Isn’t the prospect of averting a nuclear catastrophe worth at least that?

North Korea has long cited US aggression, US troops in the region and US military drills as primary motivators in seeking a nuclear weapons deterrent.

Given North Korea has a poorly developed economy and military, while America maintains 57 000 troops collectively in nearby Japan and South Korea, and also routinely carries out military drills near its territory, it is not difficult to understand why North Korea is seeking out of this vulnerable position.

North Korea could also be forgiven for not wanting to sacrifice its own nuclear capabilities, when considering what the United States perpetrated against Iraq in 2003, and Libya in 2011.

While Saddam Hussein’s Iraq did not actually possess ‘weapons of mass destruction’, the United States invaded nonetheless.

Likewise, Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi who gave up his nuclear program to build closer ties to the West, found his regime and life overthrown in 2011.

North Korea also remains fixated upon the Korean war of 1950- 53. Despite that most Americans have virtually forgotten this war, this conflict looms large in North Korean propaganda, which accuses the United States of starting the war. As the brutal history of this war is fed daily into the North Korean narrative of Western- inflicted oppression, escalating tensions between the United States only reinforces these conceptions. When we consider this paranoia which dominates life in North Korea, and that no treaty has been signed since the war’s cessation, it becomes clear that this rogue nation is in no position to back down.

With reports that Kim Jong- un is heavily conscious of this history, it must be understood that North Korea is a rational (albeit volatile) actor, rather than an irrational one.

Although the temperature in this US- North Korea standoff is far higher than usual levels, repeating the horrors of nuclear war must be avoided at all costs.

In part, this could be realized by achieving dialogue with North Korea, so that both sides can sit down at diplomatic tables and calmly, logically explain their own equally justifiable objections to one another.

Surely, the costs of such talks outweigh the prospect of continuing the present hazardous path.

As for President Trump, the candidate who once appeared most likely to keep America out of foreign wars, it appears the military- industrial complex has snaffled him up on North Korea.

Inundated by the advice of military generals, the Pentagon and the CIA, it is understandable, yet disappointing to see Trump’s stance on war change as his Presidency ensues.

For it is this same broken establishment, who got the United States involved in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and teetering on the edge of conflict with North Korea.

These individuals who have either served, or have been indirectly involved in war for the duration of their professional lives, are likely to opt for a military response, as this is what they are naturally accustomed to doing.

Nonetheless, whilst many would cheer the first shots of a North Korean conflict, public support for war will likely wane, when caskets are filled with America’s slain sons.

If this potential human tragedy, combined with a lengthy period of nation- building, in addition to retaliatory saber- rattling from China all takes place, it will appropriately weigh heavily on Trump’s Presidency, as George W Bush is remembered for his blunders in Iraq.

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