• Brinkmanship and One-Upmanship with North Korea: How to Start a BIG War


    On September 19, 2017, President Donald Trump made his first address at the United Nations. It is a refreshing change to hear an American president positively support the efforts and long held principles of the United States rather than hear one apologize for them. The major highlights of his speech addressed global security, peace and prosperity. However, what will become very important in the coming months will not be related to the majority of his points, but to the one.

    North Korea was the one issue that caused more than one heart to skip a beat. President Trump, in addressing North Korea had these words to say:

    “If this is not twisted enough [a list of offenses], now North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles threatens the entire world with unthinkable loss of human life. It is an outrage that some nations would not only trade with such a regime, but would arm supply and financially support a country that imperils the world with nuclear conflict. No nation on earth has an interest in seeing this band of criminals arm itself with nuclear weapons and missiles. The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime. The United States is ready willing and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary.”

    Any presidential address to the United Nations that brings scrutiny to rogue regimes is appropriate. Any call for solidarity in isolating or ostracizing rogue nations is appropriate. Any declaration of defending one’s friends to the fullest is appropriate. What is problematic is rhetoric that appears designed to inflame a man who is arguably a paranoid megalomaniac. Do the terms, depraved regime, band of criminals, rocket man, twisted, reckless, and suicide mission help or does it hurt? Does a threat from the most powerful nation on the planet to “totally destroy” the tiny and impoverished North Korea help or does it hurt?

    Kim Jong-un is not completely wrong. He absolutely wants to maintain power for himself. He has tens of millions of adoring people chanting his name. Of course the vast majority of these people do not know what is going on in the world beyond their borders. All they hear are the false narratives promoted by the Kim regime. Kim Jong-un faces the threat of his people finding out the truth. He faces the threat of a military coup. He also faces at least a perceived threat from the outside world. It is no secret the United States and other global actors have at times been engaged in regime change. Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Cuba (1961), Chile (1973), Grenada (1983), Panama (1989), Iraq (2003), and Libya (2011) are some of the states where regime change occurred, or was attempted. What better weapons to defend oneself than intercontinental nuclear missiles, which are capable of landing anywhere in the world to great effect? The more sabre rattling from the United States, the faster Kim Jong-un will develop his capability.

    Another global actor involved with North Korea is China. China does not want a strong U.S. ally in the form of a unified Korea directly on their border, which is why they have supported, and will continue to support the troublesome regimes of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un, and any future Kims in North Korea. China will defend North Korea should they get into a military altercation with the United States regardless of any sanctions they helped establish in the United Nations Security Council. Any military conflict between North Korea and the United States is highly likely to cause mass casualties in the heavily populated urban areas of South Korea and Japan. Considering these and other difficulties, perhaps the best policy is for the United States to attempt to maintain North Korean containment until the regime collapses from within. Only then can a possible agreement be made with China that might resemble the reunification of Germany.

    Escalation, one-upmanship, or any other brinkmanship with a man that cannot afford to appear weak is what is reckless, that is, unless President Trump actually wants a big war. If so, then carry on. We are well on our way.

    Update:

    According to the New York Times, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un responded that President Trump's remarks, “. . . convinced me, rather than frightening or stopping me, that the path I chose is correct and that it is the one I have to follow to the last.” Perhaps the President should reflect on this; Kim Jong-un is not Rosie O'Donnell.

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