Trump vs Kim Jong-un

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A few weeks back I wrote about the accidental possibility of a nuclear war. Here is my update on that critical situation.

US – North Korea war

There is now a war of words between two narcissistic and volatile personalities – Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump.  Last month, Kim Jong-un responded to Trump’s UN speech by saying that Pyongyang was seriously considering “…the highest level of hard-line countermeasures in history.” The actual threat was for North Korea to carry out an atmospheric nuclear test in the Pacific Ocean.

According to experts, a North Korean nuclear test in the Pacific Ocean could be done by launching a nuclear tipped ballistic missile over the ocean and exploding the warhead at a high altitude. Such a test would include flying the missile over Japan. This could show the world that North Korea is capable of launching a intercontinental ballistic missile towards the United States mainland or, at least, Guam. North Korea could minimize the damage by testing its nuclear bomb at an extremely high altitude and in a very remote area of the Pacific Ocean.

Even if the damage was minimal, this would be considered highly provocative. The last atmospheric nuclear test was done by China in 1980; and, that was in the remote Lop Nur basin of Xinjang province within its own territory. If there is really an impending Pacific Ocean nuclear test, the United States and Japan might shoot down the missile before it flies over the Japanese mainland. The United States – or Donald Trump – might even order the missile destroyed on its launch pad before it could fly.

Trump’s rhetoric has been increasingly belligerent towards North Korea. The world is not sure whether this is just for show. Trump has often been accused of failing to distinguish between being the American President in the real world and the leading star in a reality television show where the main goal is not world peace but increasing viewership ratings.

Rational or suicidal

The biggest problem in geopolitics that can lead to an accidental war is miscommunication and misunderstanding between leaders of opposing powers. This is the theme of a recent article in the Atlantic magazine. North Korea’s intentions may be difficult to understand but most defense analysts actually believe that Kim Jong-un is a rational actor in geopolitics. His overriding goal is the preservation of the Kim family rule in North Korea. He has supposedly arrived at the conclusion that any attempt at regime change can only be defeated if North Korea – and the Kim family – possess nuclear bombs. This is a lesson learned from the fall of Qaddafi   in Libya who gave up nuclear bombs but still became the victim of regime change by Western powers. Kim Jong-un is also said to be aware of the lessons of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan which have been invaded by different external groups seeking to impose their own choices of rulers.

In this scenario, it is actually the United States which is sending out conflicting messages. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has publicly stated the need for quiet diplomacy between the two countries. However, his president has publicly condemned him for this view.  Trump seems to think that Kim Jong un is on a suicide mission; and, therefore, cannot be expected to act rationally. If this is his conclusion, then the United States response may be that it cannot also be rational when it responds to the North Korean threat. This may well be the seed of a potential nuclear conflict between the United States and North Korea.

Reading Trump

Sam Vinograd, former Obama national security adviser, has been quoted as saying: “ If you’re North Korea, you’re probably wondering ‘ How many rockets can I launch?…How much closer can I get to putting a heavier nuclear payload on an ICBM before Donald Trump actually does something?”

Matt Petersen of the Atlantic recently wrote: “The North Koreans are clearly trying to puzzle this out. In recent weeks they’ve allowed in major Western media organizations – the New Yorkerand the Wall Street Journal were invited to take reporting trips, and their reporters were both asked who really holds the reins of power in Washington. (A New York Times journalist tweeted recently that they, too, are reporting from Pyongyang.) Meanwhile as the Washington Post reported, the North Koreans are reaching out to conservative think tank analysts in the US to try to get a better read on the Trump administration.”

China and Russia

China is apparently in a serious dilemma about its position in North Korea. Beijing clearly does not want a unified Korea with nuclear capability and a potential American ally right at its doorstep. There are reports that Kim Jong-un is as suspicious about China’s regime change intentions as he is about the United States. Purge of certain top North Koreans a few years ago is said to have been  motivated by Kim Jong-un’s desire to remove the pro-China faction from the North Korean leadership. There are also reports that Russia will actually work to aggravate the situation, as it has done in Syria and Iran, in order to make Russia indispensable to the solution.

Conclusion

The probability of an intentional war, despite fiery rhetoric from Trump and Kim Jong-un, is very low. There are around 140,000 American civilians in South Korea who have not been evacuated. The real fear is that more rhetorical threats and tweets, increased North Korean missile tests and American responses in terms of more strategic bomber flights makes an accident more likely; and, miscalculations could lead to an accidental nuclear confrontation.

Creative writing classes for kids/teens and adults

Young Writers’ Hangout for Kids & Teens on October 21November 4 and November 18 (1:30-3pm/independent sessions). Turning Ideas Into Books  for Adults with Karina Bolasco on November 11, 2017 (1:30pm-4:30pm). All sessions are at Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street. For registration and fee details text 0917-6240196 or email writethingsph@gmail.com.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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