TRUMP’S “FIRE AND FURY” RESPONSE TO NORTH KOREA: HOW CAN IT END?

By

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!

 

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Darkness before the Dawn or just more Darkness?

The next three weeks will be critical for national security and foreign policy issues. It seems with each passing day, it becomes more and more difficult to advance and solve serious challenges; the election has made matters worse for enlightened discussion and constructive action by America.

The agenda over the next few weeks includes the last elements of Obama’s Asia trip, the G-20 meeting on global economic issues, and the Lisbon NATO Summit on the alliance’s nuclear policy and the alliance’s future focus. Not to be overlooked is the return of Congress next week for their lame duck session. Hopefully they will act quickly on the New START treaty and perhaps the FY-2010 federal budget including the national security elements that fund the Department of State and Defense among others.  Political polarization has many costs to America and among the most serious is American security in an uncertain and dangerous world.

With regard to the ratification vote in the Senate on the New START treaty, we have made many comments on the vital importance of that agreement; especially the loss of our verification of Russia’s strategic nuclear capability which has gone uninspected for nearly a year after the old START treaty expired. All experts say this is a serious disadvantage for us. High level Republican strategists and national security officials have advocated its rapid ratification. But some Republicans, unconcerned with the strategic ramifications, think the “veto” of the treaty is just one more tool in the destruction of our president

A related issue to New START is the debate over NATO’s future and role in developing regional missile defense as proposed by Obama (called “Phased Adaptive Approach’) and backed by most of our key allies. The Lisbon summit will include a meeting of the NATO-Russian Council, to be attended by the Russian president, after the formal NATO gathering. This meeting will allow us to engage with Russia and work cooperatively on a shared medium-range strategic defense system.  The Russians remain leery of U.S. and NATO motives but major efforts have been made to assure them it will not tip the balance of their deterrence. There are still unresolved issues regarding NATO’s “Strategic Concept” which will include a definition of NATO’s nuclear doctrine and likely stance on arms control and weapons reduction. At this moment the document remains a work in progress, after undergoing three re-writes to the draft. More on this over the next few weeks. Continue reading