Washington, UNITED STATES | AFP | Will the United States defeat the North Korean nuclear threat through “peaceful pressure” or “fire and fury”?
This week US Secretary of State and diplomatic good cop Rex Tillerson was in southeast Asia, working with allies to isolate and cajole Kim Jong-Un’s regime.
Meanwhile, back home, bad cop in chief President Donald Trump threatened Pyongyang with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
Tillerson’s diplomatic track was already a steep and rocky trail — despite early success last week with the UN Security Council’s adoption of tough new sanctions against North Korea.
But bellicose outbursts from the president and some of his senior aides may have made that path even more challenging.
“The diplomatic process has been disrupted,” said James Schoff, a senior fellow at the Asia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“Normally what would happen is, after you have these kind of sanctions passed is that that would be the moment to say: ‘OK, now we have to give time for sanctions to work.'”
North Korea has made no attempt to tone down its language since Moscow and Beijing put aside their differences with Washington and voted to back the sanctions.
– War talk –
But while Kim’s regime has long been notorious for its colorful threats, Trump’s fiery language has no American precedent, and experts say it hurts diplomatic efforts.
“I don’t think it’s particularly helpful when it’s direct rhetorical threats,” Lisa Collins, Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Without a broader overarching strategy to get North Korea to negotiate the denuclearization of the peninsula, war talk may just reinforce Kim’s grip on the regime.
“The creation of an external military threat helps Kim Jong-Un consolidate domestic power,” Collins warned.
Some Trump supporters in Washington have argued that his strong language and unpredictable stance keep US enemies on their toes and may help build diplomatic pressure.