Just recently, US President Donald Trump has stated in his Twitter that: “North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them! U.S.A.” A day later, the Japanese news agency Kyodo Tsushin released a report stating that at the beginning of April, the US State Department spokesman brought it to the attention of the Japanese government that if China did not force North Korea to pull the plug on its nuclear missile program, America would launch strikes against Pyongyang on its own.
The news provoked a massive confusion among analysts, although some of them were convinced that they were dealing with an attempt to apply pressure on China in pursuit of the recent missile attack against Syria that sought similar goals, or an attempt to “beat North Korea with its own weapons”, since to this very day Pyongyang has been portrayed as a dangerous and unpredictable force, and now Donald Trump is taking a similar posture.
Unfortunately, there is a whole range of reasons to believe that a possible US strike against the DPRK is a real threat and not just a hypothetical attempt to pressure certain states.
Such aggression will falls in line with Trump’s attempts to strengthen his position in Washington since being harassed by the media on a regular basis, with the latter claiming that he “was appointed by Putin,” which means that he’s to pursue the policies beneficial to Russia and its allies, among which one can find North Korea. In this situation, Trump is forced to take his harshest anti-Russia stance, and it’s not a matter of his personal choice, but a matter of political survival. In addition, being a populist politician, Trump is inclined to pretend to be aggressive, fighting the “outlaws” of the world. As a results, his actions are reminiscent of the steps taken by Lyndon Johnson, who sent troops to Vietnam in an attempt to strengthen America’s global image.
Moreover, for Trump, the domestic political situation in the United States and the exchange of foreign policy actions for supporting domestic political initiatives are the first thing he can consider as a profitable combination as a businessman.
There’s yet another factor that can affect the decision to launch military aggression against North Korea that can be summed up in the so-called “crisis of incompetence”. American politicians often use force when they have no other viable options, but with Trump it is much more complicated since he’s a marginal politician seen as going mainstream, so the circle of his advisers is rather narrow and is composed of peculiar people. Moreover, one can not even state that this circle is completely formed.
Moreover, the Western media has throughly demonized Pyongyang, so any form of negotiations with the Kim Jong-un government will be treated as a deal with a devil. The Trump administration can take this risk, especially in the situation it now finds itself in. If we add to this equation South Korea’s persistent claims that Pyongyang is on the verge of collapse and a clear picture of what Washington is up to emerges. At the same time, Seoul prefers to keep quiet about the fact that it has been spreading similar claims for over two decades.
With the pace that North Korean is developing its nuclear missile program over time it can completely negate the very possibility of a US strike against it. Kim Jong-un probably counts on the fact that when Pyongyang reaches a certain level of reliable nuclear deterrence, the price the United States will have to pay for an attempt at military action against it will be too high. However, for the this very reason, a delayed strike is the worst possible alternative for the sitting US administration when evaluating its options in this stand off.
At the same time, should cold strategic pragmatism be applied to the situation, the US, in order to increase the likelihood of its success in a possible conflict with Pyongyang, will act as fast as possible, since time is not working in Washington’s favor. And since in military operations, the United States has always given priority to maximum public efficiency and minimum casualties on its part, it is quite rational action could begin now, especially while large-scale maneuvers are being carried out in the South, which means that Washington will save time on the deployment of its troops.
And even in a situation if North Korea proves to be stronger than expected, from the point of view of political cynicism, the US will still be able to reap political gains, even if Pyongyang in response to an act of America’s aggression responds with massive strikes against South Korea and Japan. At this point in time, North Korea has no reliable means of delivering nukes to inflict damage to the territory of the US. Pyongyang’s actions will unequivocally expose it as an aggressor in the eyes of the international community, which will serve as a justification of further escalation, up to the potential use of nuclear weapons. Secondly, from the point of view of the “Make America great again” concept, South Korea and Japan are perceived as economic competitors of the United States. Meanwhile, in the event of a regional conflict in which North Korea takes a final stand, striving to inflict maximum damage on its opponents, the ability of Washington’s allies in the region to compete with the US will be crippled, making those states even more economically dependent on America. At the same time, formally, the US does not stomp competitors themselves, but creates a situation in which their economic aspirations are torpedoed by an American enemy.
Of course, it is possible to provide arguments to back up the claim that there’s going to be no war. The main danger here is that the situation could escalate into the second Korean War, and then the Third World War. And we should not overestimate America’s cynicism or Washington’s ability to think through complex combinations.
However, the purpose of this article is to draw attention to the high probability of such an outcome, since a new war against North Korea should be evaluated seriously, without political rhetoric interwoven.
It is clear that peace requires commitment from both sides, since the North Korean nuclear test or the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile can trigger US military action in short order, especially if it is spiced up with a false flag event, like a chemical attack or claims that Kim Jong-un is building a doomsday machine in an underground lair.
Konstantin Asmolov, PhD in History, Leading Research Fellow at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”