North Korea. The country that has been on everyone’s mind as President Trump ramps up his rhetoric on the actions he is willing to take against the totalitarian nation.
Trump’s recent claim at the United Nations General Assembly that the United States has the ability to “destroy North Korea” (CNN) was met with a North Korean response six days later, claiming that the U.S. had declared war on them. With these actions, certain questions are raised: How did America’s relationship with North Korea get to this point? Is the current buildup of angst due to the President’s difficulties pursuing diplomatic resolutions, or has North Korea long been edging toward a widespread global conflict?
North Korea’s tension toward the U.S. stems from the Korean War that raged throughout the Korean peninsula during the early 1950s. The war resulted from the United Nations and the U.S. trying to defend South Korea from an attack that Western historians claim North Korea started. However, the North Korean government has continued to perpetuate the idea that the United States actually attacked them first and have convinced their people of this claim through various forms of propaganda.
In this conflict, according to CNN, North Korea lost 1.3 million citizens including civilians and military personnel. Yet, what the North Koreans claim was worse during this war was the air raids they were subjected to that completely demolished their communities. As a matter of fact, these air raids are what the North Koreans believe to be the “original sin.” This idea is what Pyongyang, which refers to the North Korean government, uses to continue to control the perception of the United States in North Korea. They tell their people that the U.S. is a country that can’t be trusted as they could potentially launch an “airstrike” at any time. This is the government’s defense as well when explaining why they continously test missiles and the reason why they have grown their nuclear weapons arsenal.
North Korea’s moves towards becoming a nuclear power have been handled in various ways by recent American presidents. Bill Clinton’s most notable action with this country was the signing of the Joint Framework Agreement in 1994, according to the San Diego Union Tribune. This agreement essentially gave the North Korean regime certain “benefits” in exchange for stopping their “nuclear program.” Clinton stated at the time, “this agreement will help achieve a longstanding and vital American objective—an end to the threat of nuclear proliferation on the Korean Peninsula.”
George W. Bush followed Clinton’s lead on addressing these issues in the region through diplomatic means. However, he also used rhetoric that rings familiar. According to the New York Times, Bush stated in his 2002 State of the Union Address that Iraq, Iran, and North Korea represented an “axis of evil.” These words led Pyongyang to admit that they had been involved in a nuclear weapons program even though they had signed the Joint Framework Agreement. These series of steps are very similar to the manner in which North Korea seems to directly respond to the language that comes from President Trump’s Twitter page.
Regardless, it was during Bush’s presidency that “The Six Party Talks” started. The group constituted of Japan, China, Russia, South Korea, and the US. The goal was to once again bring North Korea to the table to provide them with economic benefits in exchange for stopping their nuclear program. Unfortunately, these “Talks” weren’t enough as North Korea held their first nuclear test a few years later in 2006.
Similarly, President Barack Obama tried to control North Korea by pursuing diplomatic compromises. Much of his tenure as president was spent placing economic sanctions on the nation, though they continued to expand their nuclear program.
President Donald Trump on the other hand has been confronting North Korea in a much different manner. While the United Nations Security Council has continued to place pressure on the nation through sanctions, Trump and his administration have engaged in strong rhetoric toward Pyongyang. Starting in January of 2017 and continuing into April, North Korea was reported to have launched five ballistic missiles (CNN). In response to these actions, the U.S. launched a missile into Syria along with a massive non-nuclear weapon into Afghanistan in an area said to be manned by ISIS combatants. Many claimed that these launches were done in part as a warning towards Pyongyang.
Indeed, just two days later, North Korea had a “military parade” that displayed their vast arsenal of nuclear weapons.
During this back and forth, Vice President Mike Pence, according to CNN, “warned North Korea not to test the resolve of the U.S. or the strength of our military forces.” A North Korean representative responded by stating the U.S. had “created a dangerous situation in which thermonuclear war may break out at any moment on the peninsula and poses a serious threat to world peace and security.” Amid these tensions, Trump stated in an interview with CBS at the end of April that Kim Jong Un was “a smart cookie” due to his ability to have come to power at such a young age.
This strong rhetoric pursued by Trump and his administration has to some extent exacerbated the continuous testing of North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missiles. This pattern of “responding” is not new, as seen during Bush’s administration. So, as the White House continues to work with the problems North Korea raises, staying away from deliberate, condescending, and instigating language could potentially give them much needed time to pursue diplomatic solutions.
However, this seems to be a route that the President finds fruitless as, according to the New York Times, Trump recently undermined his Secretary of State by tweeting, “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man” amid Tillerson’s efforts to open diplomatic resolutions with North Korea. Even though diplomacy might be a potential solution to North Korea, the President finds it a “waste of time.”
In this era where U.S foreign policy is openly discussed on a Twitter page, the U.S could potentially find itself dealing with a military, or even nuclear conflict as the situation with North Korea continues to become more threatening.