Surely Donald Trump couldn’t be that foolish
By Benjamin Habib
As the USS Carl Vinson and its carrier battle group steamed through the Pacific toward the Korean Peninsula in late April, many were wondering if the Trump administration could be so rash as to attack North Korea.
Regardless of how this latest move plays out, the international community will ultimately have to accept and learn to manage a nuclear North Korea. This is because: North Korea will not relinquish its nuclear program for any price, the economic sanctions placed on it by the UN Security Council have had minimal impact in compelling North Korea’s denuclearization, and military options for denuclearising North Korea carry unacceptably high risks of a disastrous cascade to full-scale war.
The Trump administration appears to agree with the first two assertions. However, it has reached a contrary view on the threat or use of military force to tame North Korea.
Meanwhile, North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test in September 2016 and has since embarked on several missile tests. The reasons for these tests include advancing the technological development of its nuclear weapons program, signaling displeasure about the annual US-South Korea joint military exercises, and testing the new Trump administration’s mettle.
In response, the U.S. is doubling down on abrasive posturing and military threats. During his recent visit to South Korea, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said “the policy of strategic patience has ended” with North Korea, and “all options are on the table” to denuclearise it. And Donald Trump has since declared on Twitter: “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.”
In the past, US leaders have deployed stealth fighters and bombers to the Korean Peninsula as a signal to North Korea of the consequences of continued provocation. Trump, however, has deployed an aircraft carrier group in a move that goes beyond signaling a declaration of intent to attack.
In the context of U.S. air strikes against the Assad regime in Syria, the North Korean government would have little choice but to take the threat seriously. The risk of escalation to full-scale war has intensified.