POINT OF VIEW

North Korean war of words could turn into a real war

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At the United Nations on Sept. 19, 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 (Sept. 15), in defiance of Trump’s prior verbal threats, North Korea detonated a hydrogen bomb and launched a ballistic missile over Japan. Kim Jung Un is determined to make his case to the world that the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea is a nuclear power to be respected.

Since Jan. 20, a bitter war of words has ensued between President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader, which rapidly escalated in 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”?

To better understand our current dilemma, and why many world leaders are now sitting with discomfort at the edge of their seats, it’s instructive to go back to President George W. Bush and to the pro-war neocons. To be sure, there were many attempts via the threat of pre-emptive strikes, diplomacy and economic aid — by the United States, in the ‘90s — to bring North Korea to the negotiating table. 

In the waning days of Bill Clinton’s presidency, however, 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 United States promised to deliver economic support, in oil deliveries, with specific annual targets.

But the biggest prize was the United States promise to “stop treating the DPRK like n enemy state.” There was accusation by the United States that the DPRK was cheating by testing conventional arms, which led to a delayed implementation of the agreement.

With a new administration 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.

In short, it was a regime-change doctrine. It put a new target on nations that were accused by the new administration of supporting terror, and of having (or building) weapons of mass destruction — i.e., North Korea, Iraq and Iran.

As expected, the administration of George Bush and the pro-war neocons not only scuttled the deal, but resumed the treatment of enmity. That move was interpreted by Kim Jong Il — the father of Kim Jong Un — as the United States going back on the promise. 

In response, the DPRK kicked out the International Atomic Energy Agency, otherwise known as the 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 Obama presidency, United Nations’ sanctions 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 destruction, and the latter giving up its ambition for producing nuclear weapons) were not successful in maintaining their regimes.

The exception was Iran. 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, the United States, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany) — dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

 

Déjà vu

Not surprisingly, with the election of Donald Trump, there was a return to the neocon war ideology; but with a new form of heightened rhetoric. Although the United Nations nuclear inspectors, with support of other JCPOA members, certified Iran is in compliance, Trump — the only holdout, on behalf of the United States — 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 Jong Un is going to hold onto 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. Strategic sanctions on China — the DRPK’s main trading partner — tough diplomacy, and a sense of respect 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 Kim Jong Un utter Tony Montana’s famous phase “Scarface” — “Say hello to my little friend.”

Derickson Lawrence,

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