North Korea, Part One: Trump = Obama
We had a recent complaint that some of our stories are way too long. Therefore, this complicated discussion of the North Korea situation has been broken into two parts. The first explains the difficulty of dealing with North Korea. The second story will discuss why we are in this situation in the first place—and why it’s not really our problem.
Donald Trump is threatening war (“fire and fury”) with North Korea (NK), and the threats are not going over well with the rest of the world—particularly, lands easily within NK’s missile range. Trump’s comments “are not helpful in an environment that is very tense,” New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English told reporters Wednesday, according to the New Zealand Herald, as reported by Politico.
“I am worried those comments are not helpful when the situation is so tense, and I think you are seeing reaction from North Korea that indicates that kind of comment is more likely to escalate than to settle things,” English said. . .
Madeleine Bordallo, Guam’s delegate to Congress, said. . . “The President’s tweet earlier today is concerning and unhelpful and does not lay out a clear strategy on how he will address the growing threats from North Korea. Kim Jung Un’s reckless behavior cannot be tolerated, and I strongly urge the President to explore every avenue to peacefully respond to it and avoid further escalating this situation”. . .
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) [said] “We need vigorous diplomacy and to beef up missile defense. POTUS statement unwise in tone, substance. No gain from using such language,” the Hawaii lawmaker wrote. “It would be excellent to have a President experienced in foreign policy and government leadership next time.”
There’s also criticism on the “mainland.”
“The greatest North Korean threat we face is not from a nuclear-tipped missile hitting the U.S. mainland but from Washington stumbling into an inadvertent nuclear war on the Korean peninsula,” Siegfried Hecker, a former director of Los Alamos National Laboratory and a nuclear expert who has visited North Korea seven times since 2004, said in an email. “The president’s statements exacerbate” such concerns, Hecker said.
But now, the White House is trying to downplay Trump’s comments. “The president’s statements exacerbate” such concerns, Hecker said.
Several White House officials privately downplayed the statement, saying in some ways “it’s the way Trump talks,” in the words of one.
“He’s pissed off in private and he’s pissed off in public,” this person said.
The statement was not vetted through State Department channels, one official said, but Trump has asked an increasing number of questions about North Korea, this official said.
A Pentagon spokesman, Col. Robert Manning, said he was “not aware of any change in policy” and directed all questions to the White House. The State Department also declined to comment.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterated that easing.
“I do not believe that there is any imminent threat in my own view,” Tillerson told reporters aboard his aircraft as he traveled to Guam, one of the U.S. territories in the Pacific most threatened by North Korea. “I think Americans should sleep well at night. I have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days.”
For all the bragging that Trump is “The Great Negotiator,” his NK policies are indistinguishable from those of the Obama administration.
Despite the saber rattling and mixed messages about what it will take to bring North Korea to the table, Klingner said that, privately, the administration has a more “coherent strategy” than it might seem.
“The Trump administration to date has not yet distinguished its policy toward North Korea from that of Obama,” he added. “The president and others have been talking tough about sanctions, as Obama did, but have not yet followed through on any significant increase.”
Other experts agree that, despite Trump’s declarations that he’s abandoning Obama’s “strategic patience” with North Korea, the basic strategy of ramping up pressure on the regime to end its missile program is a carryover from the past eight years.
“I would certainly agree that the bellicose rhetoric has increased under the Trump administration, but the policy of trying to ratchet up pressure on North Korea using sanctions and offering talks only after North Korea meets some onerous preconditions is similar to the Obama administration,” said Kelsey Davenport, director of nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association.
And a recent poll shows that Americans have little faith in Trump’s bellicose approach.
Regardless of party alignment, 72 percent of the 1,111 people surveyed reported unease about a possible conflict, and only 26 percent said they are “confident things will be resolved.” Similar numbers were reported for whether people think a threat can be contained: 60 percent said they believe it can, 29 percent said military action is needed now — and 7 percent think it is not a threat at all.
. . . only 10 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of independents said they are confident in Trump’s ability to handle the North Korea nuclear situation.
Trump’s comments followed a report about NK’s newest advancements.
“North Korea now making missile-ready nuclear weapons, U.S. analysts say”: “North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles, crossing a key threshold on the path to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power, U.S. intelligence officials have concluded in a confidential assessment.
“The new analysis completed last month by the Defense Intelligence Agency comes on the heels of another intelligence assessment that sharply raises the official estimate for the total number of bombs in the communist country’s atomic arsenal. The U.S. calculated last month that up to 60 nuclear weapons are now controlled by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Some independent experts believe the number of bombs is much smaller.”
So here we are, with North Korea trying harder than ever to build a nuclear deterrent. How did we get ourselves into this predicament? Read the next story.
Filed in: Foreign Policy Tagged in: China foreign policy kim jong-un north korea Russia trump