Editor’s Note: This article’s language has been slightly changed to more accurately portray the context and conditions of threats issued against North Korea by United States President Donald Trump. A Twitter poll has been embedded at the end of the article.
Monday morning, North Korea’s foreign minister held a press conference outside his hotel in New York City. During the event, the diplomat warned that United States President Donald Trump’s antagonist rhetoric, represented in tweets and an unusually dark speech at a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly last week, represented a “declaration of war.” He stated the DPRK maintained the authority to shoot down American military planes — even ones not flying in North Korean airspace.
This is frightening and certainly cause for concern. But don’t panic just yet. This isn’t the first time the country has accused the U.S. of declaring war, and, so far, the war of words has contained itself to the realm of the vernacular. The odds of nuclear war, or even a conventional war, erupting on the Korean peninsula remain slim. Such a scenario would be disastrous for all parties involved, especially the current DPRK leadership, which is clearly outgunned by U.S. military might. No one wants to start the Second Korean War.
The worrying part, however, is that war is slowly becoming more likely through a risk of miscalculation. When verbal attacks are executed in fewer than 140 characters, as Trump’s Twitter rants often are, there is little room for nuance. This creates a situation where it is easy to misunderstand the objectives of the other. North Korea fears the repercussions of choosing to strike first, but if it believed a U.S.-led attack was imminent, it may still decide to lash out pre-emptively.
Diplomatic clarity is necessary to avoid the worst of all possible outcomes. Our commander in chief, however, doesn’t seem to care.
Last week, during a speech at the U.N., Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea, nicknaming the country’s leader, who has compelled development of nuclear-tipped weaponry, “Rocket Man.” In retaliation, Kim Jong-Un, supreme leader of North Korea, issued a personal statement calling the president a mentally deranged “dotard” who he would tame “with fire.” Then, Trump criticized the North Korean foreign minister’s own speech at the U.N., threatening the country, if it continues its current trajectory, “won’t be around much longer.”
That inflammatory tweet, specifically, is what the DPRK is calling a declaration of war. For its part, Twitter is still refusing to take it down, saying it adheres to the social media company’s code of conduct.
It’s not even a change in strategy for Trump. During a press conference last month at one of the president’s New Jersey golf clubs, his words were just as bellicose.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” the president said in August. “They will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
It is important to project strength, a strategy which often deters potential military attacks by making them seem too costly for a would-be assailant. However, the most powerful country in the modern world shouldn’t descend to the level of petty insults and needless warmongering, even if the other side is primarily to blame. It’s embarrassing. Even worse, it’s incredibly dangerous. The U.S. should be an international moral exemplar, yet the president takes our great nation’s name and drags it through the mud, threatening mass genocide in a country half a world away.
Instead of engaging in a tit-for-tat with an authoritarian regime, Trump needs to be the bigger man. One of the clearest ways to escape this mire of diplomacy is to unite the rest of the world in opposition to North Korea’s self-righteous jingoism. Russia and China have roles to play; both countries helped pass economic sanctions against Pyongyang already. We need to maintain, and strengthen, that same co-operation. Threatening to wipe a country, even one as belligerent as the DPRK, off the map is not helpful to this end. A new round of open, diplomatic negotiations is the clear and appropriate response.
If Trump wants to keep the peace in East Asia, he needs to tone down his rhetoric and assume the moral high ground, fashioning a co-operative agreement with Russia, China and other stakeholders before it’s too late. Otherwise, his actions may go down in history as one of the greatest foreign policy blunders this world has ever seen. ■