A few weeks ago, Vice President Mike Pence was at a joint press conference in Seoul with South Korea President Hwang Kyo-Ahn when he said, “The era of strategic patience is over” in regards to North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program.
This escalation by the United States towards North Korea is a dramatic shift from President Obama’s approach of ‘strategic patience’ – which attempted to get the North Koreans to the negotiating table by applying diplomatic pressure.
As the North Koreans have continued to develop their nuclear program and test ICBMs that could possibly reach the west coast of the United States, we are seeing a large rise in tensions between the Trump administration and Kim Jong-Un’s regime.
Concerns continue to rise as the North Koreans revealed new long-range missiles and submarine-based missiles as part of a military parade to celebrate the birthday of North Korea’s founder, the late Kim Il Sung. In addition to revealing the new weapons, they also attempted to test a new missile strike the day after the parade – although it failed when it immediately exploded just after taking off.
Just five days ago, the North Koreans said via a spokesperson “In the case of our super-mighty preemptive strike being launched, it will completely and immediately wipe out not only US imperialists’ invasion forces in South Korea and its surrounding areas but the US mainland and reduce them to ashes.”
This is not the first time the North has used extreme threats against the United States. A year ago, a statement from Pyongyang read “If the American imperialists provoke us a bit, we will not hesitate to slap them with a pre-emptive nuclear strike, the United States must choose! It’s up to you whether the nation called the United States exists on this planet or not.”
Secretary of Defense James Mattis has dismissed Pyongyang’s latest threats, saying, “As far as North Korea’s latest words (are concerned), I think we’ve all come to hear their words repeatedly, their word has not proven honest,”
President Trump took to twitter to threaten the North Koreans himself.
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.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2017
The United States also said that it diverted an aircraft carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, off of its course to Australia to turn around and head north towards Korean waters in order to “maintain readiness and presence in the Western Pacific” according to a U.S. Pacific Command spokesperson.
Just yesterday, President Trump spoke with President Xi of China and criticized the North Koreans “continued belligerence” and emphasized that its actions are destabilizing the Korean peninsula. However, President Xi said that he hopes that both the United States and the North Koreans will continue to exercise restraint and suggested that the two countries should meet each other halfway and try to find a peaceful solution.
Had a very good call last night with the President of China concerning the menace of North Korea.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 12, 2017
Trump took to Twitter the day after his conversation with Xi and expressed his hope that the Chinese will “deal” with the North Koreans.
I have great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea. If they are unable to do so, the U.S., with its allies, will! U.S.A.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 13, 2017
Trump will more than likely be disappointed with the Chinese handling of North Korea, which is one of their trading partners. It is in the interest of the Chinese to maintain the status quo in the Korean peninsula. If the DPRK regime was to fall and there was a reunification of the Korean peninsula, there would more than likely be a massive wave of immigrants from North Korea that flood into China. Aside from that, it is very likely that a reunified Korea would be an ally of the United States and would allow the Americans to maintain a military presence in the country. This makes the Chinese nervous since the U.S. would be in a neighboring country as they continue their controversial campaign in the South China Sea. President Trump should not expect the Chinese to take any aggressive measures against Pyongyang on behalf of the U.S.
It is very easy to envisage a continued rise in tensions between the North Koreans and the U.S. It is a near certainty that the North Koreans will continue to make progress in their nuclear program and test ballistic missiles. As their capabilities continue to rise, there will be an increasing amount of pressure on the Trump administration to display strength and put a stop to the weapons program so that the North Koreans are not in a position where they can strike the United States.
It seems unlikely that the North Koreans will attack the United States first knowing that the U.S. has a much stronger military and a larger nuclear weapons capability. However, the Trump administration has already shown they are willing to act militarily when they feel necessary after the military strike against the Syrian airbase in response to Assad’s chemical weapons attack.
The world will nervously be watching to see if the Trump administration continues with the strong rhetoric and possibly launch a preemptive military strike against the North Koreans, or if they continue to threaten Pyongyang but display restraint as the Chinese are hoping for.
Daniel Alonso is the founder and contributor of Politicsay. Daniel graduated from Florida International University with a double major in Political Science and International Relations, as well as a certificate in National Security Studies. Daniel focuses on American Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, and Human Rights Issues.