President Trump is forcing North Korea’s hand. With his executive order imposing new sanctions on entities that do business with the rogue nation, the president has sent a clear message to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un that the United States will not be trifled with.
America is now in the midst of a nuclear standoff with the highest possible stakes.
The White House has cast aside the ineffectual “strategic patience” doctrine of the Obama era, and has replaced it with a demand for “complete denuclearization” of North Korea.
Kim has responded with even more belligerent rhetoric, including calling our commander-in-chief a “mentally deranged dotard” in an official statement.
Much more troubling than the personal insult is Kim’s threat to detonate a thermonuclear device over the Pacific Ocean. Given recent North Korean provocations, including missiles fired over our close ally Japan, the threat of such a major escalation has to be taken seriously.
Nobody knows with any certainty how the Kim regime will respond. A government that uses mass hunger as a mechanism of control, that executes its citizens for the crime of carrying a Bible, and that maintains a vast modern-day gulag is thoroughly evil.
And given its absence of moral boundaries, the North Korean government is also unpredictable. Kim certainly doesn’t care how much his people suffer, and would likely be willing to sacrifice huge numbers of them in a military conflict of his choosing.
Many major wars throughout history have started under what appeared to be unthinkable, irrational circumstances. While it should not be overstated, North Korea certainly poses such a risk.
The Kim regime is a cult of personality presiding over a hyper-militaristic state steeped in both a siege mentality and promises of a glorious future victory. Its vast parades of troops and missiles, alongside its paranoid and aggressive propaganda, are not just for show.
Given this mentality and history of the Kim regime, catastrophic miscalculation is a dark specter that hangs above the Korean peninsula and it is growing.
This nuclear brinksmanship will not soon be resolved. For the Kim regime, weapons of mass destruction are more than just a bargaining chip. The very legitimacy of the Kim dynasty is built on its ability to defy international pressure and eventually reunify the Korean peninsula through force.
From Kim’s perspective, abandoning the very weapons that may neutralize the military advantage of South Korea’s allies would be irrational.
North Korea could live without nuclear weapons. But if Kim thinks he can’t, it won’t matter how much outside pressure is placed on his pariah state. His overriding motivation will be defiance, and his hostility to the United States and its allies will reach new heights.
This is why President Trump’s approach is fraught with risk. By disrupting the status quo on North Korea relations, he has accelerated the timetable. This could result in a rash response from the dangerous, vicious dictator who rules North Korea.
But after decades of delay by other administrations, President Trump is finally confronting the monster above the 38th parallel. If he is successful and North Korea begins to denuclearize, it will be the most important diplomatic breakthrough of a generation, perhaps a lifetime.
But it’s very early, and we are in uncharted territory. President Trump is pushing Kim Jong Un into a corner. How the tyrant of Pyonyang responds will determine the fate of millions.