It has been a week of barking out military options, a week of ‘everything is on the table’, a week of threats no longer veiled. Not an example of ‘cool as a cucumber’, rather a red-face turning to purple with the intensity of the phrasing.
What brought on this apoplexy, the ‘fire and fury’ to be unleashed not just at North Korea, up to its usual blustering, but also on poor Venezuela. Why Venezuela? Because it held an election to find some kind of solution to a recalcitrant right-wing opposition (unable to come to terms with election losses) which has mounted an unceasing campaign of disruption causing economic havoc.
What of North Korea? They claim to be readying plans to attack Guam. Doesn’t take much readying to send a missile, which will be just the excuse the U.S. needs to flatten Pyongyang. Or are they readying plans to send an armada? Really? Of course all the warmongering has given Mr. Trump a boost in his poll ratings with his supporters viewing him more favorably again. And, it’s a welcome distraction from the Russia story.
The good news is that a back channel to the North Koreans is back in operation. They had closed it after sanctions by the Obama administration. At the UN, Joseph Yun, the U.S. envoy for North Korea has been doing the groundwork with North Korea’s Park Song Il, a senior diplomat with the country’s UN mission. A reasonable foundation can form the basis for future serious discussions.
If Mr. Yun is offering carrots, then it would make sense for Mr. Trump to wield a stick, and it would be perfectly natural for him to brandish the biggest imaginable.
Economic carrots and a military stick brought the North Koreans to heel during the Clinton administration when it sought closure of a plutonium plant. Estimates vary but it’s not impossible for it to have produced enough fissile material for fifty bombs were it still in operation.
At the time, the U.S. wielded the stick and South Korea offered the economic carrot. President Kim Dae Jung announced his “sunshine policy’ leading to a meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Il. Within a few years the Kaesong Industrial Region was established. South Korean companies installed factories taking advantage of cheaper North Korean labor, and inter-country trade grew to make South Korea the North’s biggest trading partner.
So matters stood despite President George W. Bush and his inclusion of North Korea in the notorious Axis of Evil in 2002. In 2007, Presidents Roh Moo Hyun and Kim Jong Il signed a peace declaration with the intent of following up with an eventual formal peace treaty.
Sadly for peace, a religious-conservative wind rose in the form of South Korean President Lee Myung Bak and blew the plans away. He abandoned the policy in early 2010. The North responded quickly, sinking a South Korean navy ship the Cheonan with a torpedo. The feud continued, and we now have a nuclear missile armed North Korea.
If there is a silver lining, it is the new South Korean President Moon Jae In, a protégé of Roh Moo Hyun. President Moon is a proponent of the ‘sunshine policy’ and will be happy to supply the necessary economic carrots.