Harry C. Blaney III
Donald Trump at press event today in while on vacation in NJ: “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States.” “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state and as I said they will be met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
This is an very scary preview of Trump’s view of how to “deal” with a contending and critical conflict situation that may escalate the trajectory towards catastrophic destruction rather than moving toward de-escalation. Words matter on both sides as do threats especially by those that have the power of nuclear weapons.
The background is of a long history of negotiations by the U.S. with North Korea whose formal name is Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Past negotiations and short lived agreements failing, have resulted with a dangerous stalemate created by both sides. Past administrations trying to open new talks with North Korea rejecting the pre-condition of stopping building and testing of these weapons.
Recent intelligence reports indicate North Korea is more advanced in both nuclear weapons and ICBM’s than assessed earlier. Thus indicating that North Korea was getting close to having its long range intercontinental missiles reaching mainland U.S. Most recently after a series of missile tests and threatening statements from North Korea President Kim Jong Un Kim, the United Nations Security Council acted this last weekend with new sanctions after North Korea carried out recently two intercontinental ballistic missile tests. The new sanctions it is predicted would reduce North Korea’s annual export revenue by about a third and hopefully hindering its ability to raise resources for added developing nuclear weapons and missiles.
Just after the threatening statement by Trump, North Korea President Kim replied by threatening the ability to strike the U.S. territory of Guam. What each side needs is to avoid being drawn into a very stupid tit-for-tat escalation – the last thing anyone with sense would want to see. We now have late tonight an added threat by President Kim.
Almost all experts, who are not dire war hawks on this issue, are saying this is an unnecessary escalation now which would be best approached by intensive diplomacy. Not by bluster and threats on either side. This means the need by top leaders to work to tone down that harsh rhetoric by all sides. For America, if neither the White House Chief-of-Staff General Kelly or the head of the NSC General McMaster, can tone down Trump. If on China’s side, they can’t accomplish that end, our already fragile world will be in even deeper perilous trouble. The last thing China wants is a war on their borders.
We need to work closely with South Korea as they have the most to lose with total destruction, given the alignment of North Korea forces on their border. This is not often understood by Trump.
What then are the paths forward? Alternative options include a preemptive strike, a response second strike….all of these would be catastrophic given any normal fairly known scenario for all sides and even for the world. It would be reckless beyond imagination. We can again try direct contact and direct negotiations which would be our first likely option if both sides were sane.
That is sadly not a sure thing. North Korea has said they will not give up their nuclear weapons of missiles under any conditions. We have said we would not talk unless they stood down on their nuclear and missile program. Thus our existing stalemate. Their goal is to get American forces out of South Korea. We are committed to staying and defending South Korea – and for that matter Japan. Yet there have been innovative diplomacy ideas, like we have worked on in the Middle East, to find some way to decelerate the conflict and create a more stable situation. Whatever outcome, both sides would need to see that this diplomacy would achieve better security and peace than the status quo.
My own thought should these options not work, is we try what is called close “indirect mediation or negotiations”close in the same hotel or city, via a third neutral but very able person(s) that both sides can trust. We have used this mechanism, as have others in talks, for example between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Henry Kissinger also has used a version of this approach. There is also the more clumsy long distant bilateral mediation or “good offices” where a mediator would fly from one capital to another back and forth trying different solutions, seeking common ground and some level of agreement. One other related inducement for both sides may be for North Korea to offer to temporarily “stand down” on any new work on weapons and the other interested parties to temporarily to not enforce the new sanctions that were recently imposed. We need perhaps also a “sticks and carrots” approach.
In any case, the sad part is that the first truly existential challenge Trump has faced has shown a level of recklessness, stupidity, and created greater danger to peace. All in a critical region that requires the greatest attention, patience, deep knowledge and expertise Trump is wholly lacking and unwilling to consult and use. Sad for us!
We welcome your comments!