MOUNT VERNON, NY — September 21, 2017 — At the United Nations, on September 19, 2017th President Trump threatened to “totally destroy North Korea” if it continues on a nuclear path. This is the latest salvo of verbal jabs. Just last week (September 15, 2017) in defiance of Trump’s prior verbal threats, North Korea detonated a hydrogen bomb and launched a ballistic missile over Japan. Kim Jong-Un is determined to make his case to the world that the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK) is a nuclear power to be respected.
Since January 20, 2017, a bitter war of words has ensued between President Donald Trump, and the North Korean leader, which rapidly escalated into a tit-for-tat of display of military might; each side invoking mutual threats of mass destruction. This recent flexing of nuclear muscle by the DPRK comes despite repeated bellicose rhetoric like “Fire and Fury” and “locked and loaded” from Trump. What’s driving this madness? Could it be that the North Korean leader is concerned about self-preservation, and is willing to match our president’s rhetoric while carrying his own “big stick”?
Mixed Foreign Policy Signals
Over the past few decades, U.S. foreign policy shifts toward the Middle East and Asia driven by alternating Democratic and Republican administrations have sent mixed signals to the DPRK and yielded inconsistent results. In the waning days of Bill Clinton’s (D) presidency, for example, his administration secured a deal –the Agreed Framework–to hold the lid on DPRK’s nascent nuclear program. In exchange, according to published reports by the Nation, the U.S. promised to deliver economic support, in oil deliveries, with specific annual targets. But the biggest prize to North Korea was the U.S. promise “to stop treating the DPRK like an enemy state.” There was accusation by the U.S. that the DPRK was cheating by testing conventional arms, which led to a delayed implementation of the agreement.
With the election of George W. Bush (R) and a new brand of pro-war rhetoric, the deal faltered. Citing the phrase “Axis of Evil”, President Bush blasted the DPRK regime in his, January 2002, State of the Union. The term set the stage to reverse foreign policy initiatives. Targets were placed on nations accused by the new administration of supporting terror, and of having, or building weapons of mass destruction –i.e., North Korea, Iraq and Iran. This pro-war mantra not only scuttled the deal, it resumed the treatment of enmity towards North Korea.
The shift in policy was interpreted by Kim Jong Il – the father of Kim Jong Un—as the U.S. going back on its promise. In response, the DPRK kicked out the IAEA – International Atomic Energy Agency — United Nations’ nuclear inspectors. With no agreement, no inspectors, and start-and-stop diplomacy, the nuclear race was on.
In the years that followed under the two terms of President Obama (D) presidency, United Nations’ sanction-tightening on the DPRK had little or no effect. The regime passed from father to son, and there were at least four nuclear tests conducted by the regime according to the Washington Post.
By contrast, other so-called oppressive nations like Iraq and Libya (the former accused of harboring weapons of mass destructions, and the latter gave up its ambition for producing nuclear weapons) were not successful in maintaining their regimes. The exception was Iran. Under the Obama Presidency, sanctions and diplomatic efforts brought Iran to the table in 2015. It gave up its nuclear ambitions in exchange for the easing of economic sanctions from six nations (China, U.S., France, Russia, U.K., Germany)–dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Not surprisingly, with the election of Donald Trump (R), there was a return to the neocon war ideology; but with a new form of heightened rhetoric aimed at the Iran and the DPRK. Although the United Nations’ IAEA (international nuclear inspectors) with support of other JCPOA members certified that Iran is in compliance, Trump the only holdout — on behalf of the U.S. – – has threatened to not certify and to potentially pull out of the agreement. A decision is due in October.
One thing is clear: the world, including the DPRK, is watching to see whether America has the will to keep its promise. Accordingly, to preserve his regime and to defend against decapitation threats, Kim Jung Un has accelerated his missile tests and is going to hold on to his nukes as a deterrent.
It’s ironic that our president would use the United Nations – a forum established to foster peace and global cooperation – to threaten war. Yes! Military options should remain on the table. However, tougher and more effective sanctions on China – the DPRK’s main trading partner – and more respectful diplomacy will bring the DPRK to the bargaining table. My worst fear is that continued threats, off-handed and glib tweets by President Trump could have Jim Jung Un utter Tony Montana’s famous phrase from the movie “Scarface”: “Say hello to my little friend”.
The writer is a Mount Vernon resident, and a former congressional candidate for New York 16 CD.