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US- North Korea tension- Is war really a feasible option?

Koeun Lee

Maisie is InQuire’s website opinion editor. She welcomes all sorts of opinion pieces, from campus issues to international politics. She believes empowering student media is the first step to bringing changes, so Maisie will work with you to make your voice heard.

What you should really know behind the rhetoric of President Trump and NK leader Kim and what this crisis is actually saying

The timeline of verbal battles between the US president Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jung Un during the past several months of 2017 depicts an abrupt but constant escalation of the level of threats between the two countries, which therefore has brought about fear and anxiety within the international community at its worst extent possible. Over the past years, Trump and Kim have been the two figures whose words were considered aggressive and unpredictable but somewhat void and impossible to implement. Their words, however, were no longer considered bluff as soon as North Korea announced its successful tests on intercontinental ballistic missile (ICMB) which led to the verbal rallies underlying a worst case scenario: an actual, possibly, a nuclear war.

The wordings of Trump and Kim such as Trump’s “fire and fury” and Kim’s response as to “carefully examine a plan to attack an American military base in Guam” instantly vomited articles from news outlets warning about the actual outbreak of war, based on a promising hypothesis of President Trump deciding to go on war even without attaining approval from the Congress. Such conjecture was greatly fuelled when President Trump launched cruise missiles attack in Syria last April, in the name of defeating the ISIS. Experts began to analyse a virtual scenario of a war in Korean peninsula; according to a Stanford Military Assessment, one million people would be killed on just a first day of a war between the United States and North Korea.

However, it has been predicted the actual possibility of the US going to a war against North Korea (or vice versa) is rather remote. A possible war in Korean peninsula addresses automatic engagement of third, closely neighbouring countries including South Korea, Japan, China, and even Russia in which the situation would involve tens of millions of their population and military force. Both the United States and North Korea well comprehend the fact that their war cannot be a war solely between themselves, but would lead to a presumable devastation of the Korean peninsula, hosting deathly warfare between multiple nations. Yet, the rallies of threatening words did continue.

Then what are the actual motives of North Korea and the US, and what does this actually symbolise?

North Korea and its leader Kim Jung un, will conceivably carry on its expansion of nuclear program until it obtains an absolute capability to hit and destroy the continental US, because it is the most effective ‘bargaining chip’ that could present the Kim regime what he wants: consolidation of power of his inherited regime. The cycle of Trump’s aggressive accusation about Kim and his authoritarian regime followed by colourful insults and abusive propaganda created by the North Korean media can rather be seen as Trump falling for North Korea’s calculus. As much as North Korea gains attention from the US and the world as nuclear power, the Kim regime is allowed to continuously exploit its traditional narrative of the US being ‘the bad guy’ and hence legitimise its power as the ruler who is capable of combatting the villain from the West. Considering how Kim has displayed its brutality in the recent past through killing his closest relatives and government officials from his father’s regime, the aggressiveness projected based on his nuclear power proves consistency in his tactics.

President Trump and the US on the other hand, seems like he is giving away North Korea what it wants; however, Trump is not a man who takes a losing deal. When Kim gets to acquire stable authority as the national leader through which he can exercise mastery over his nation more powerful than ever, President Trump is practicing its natural personality as a businessman, bringing economic benefits home from selling weapons and defence system to Asia Pacific nations. As he discusses diplomatic solution with nations like South Korea or Japan that are affected by the tension, it was evidently shown that the United States has been increasingly relaxing its restrictions on arms sales in means of their ‘defence’, which used to be limited to a small number of allies, especially in regards of South Korea. President Trump has recently agreed with South Korea to deploy millions of dollars worth of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (commonly known as Theater High Altitude Area Defense, THAAD) in a rural farmland in South Korea. Unlike what it was proclaimed through media outlets, the system itself was questioned upon its genuine capability to defend the nation from ballistic missiles with a ‘hit-to-kill approach’ per its claim. Not only that, but the process of deploying the launchers was rather forceful and undemocratic, neglecting the mass opposition from the South Korean public who were not only doubting the actual merit South Korea would be receiving from such expensive purchase, but also concerning about the serious environmental consequences the implementation of THAAD will bring about: it was revealed from an internal environmental assessment that THAAD produces extensive amount of high radiation that is lethal to human body and the soil.

China has also displayed its discontent about the decision between the US and South Korea. The installation of a military defence system in South Korea resulted in China imposing economic sanction against South Korea by banning parts of the trade between the two countries and temporarily terminating issuance of visa for the Chinese tourists travelling to South Korea. It was due to its interpretation of such move as for the US to expand its sphere of power onto Asia, since the Korean peninsula can be a perfect geographical bridge for the US military expansion in Asia. This proves that the US not only bear profit motives but that to enlarge its military and diplomatic influence within Asia to wrest away the diplomatic initiative when China comes its way. On top of China’s frustration, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan has unveiled his intention to reinterpret its constitutional limit on the acquisition of offensive weapons for the first time since the second world war. Abe explained the decision was also to ‘defend’ Japan from a potential warfare. Overall, it was alluded political equilibrium in Asia was to shatter; the near future of China, Japan and the Korean peninsula indeed landed in a foggy labyrinth. Amid fuelling such divisive debate and potential chaos within the country and the entire Asia Pacific, the price the United States charged South Korea for the deploy was approximated 10 billion dollars with annual maintenance fee of 22 million dollars.

So, it seems like the United States and North Korea are the only identities benefitting from the heebie-jeebies they brought about themselves. Is it legitimate to view the current predicament as mere stage of two radical actors throwing verbal threats towards each other to gain what they want? If war not considered a feasible solution, then what does this crisis actually tell us about contemporary global community?

Simon Tisdall, a foreign affairs columnist based in Washington D.C. views the current nuclear crisis as an overall outcome of ‘the Trump effect’. The international community attempting to tame North Korea is certainly not new; however, its inclination into a long-lasting, formidable global crisis came after the embracement of ‘populist narratives’ including ‘nationalist, isolationist and xenophobic agenda’ by the United States ever since the election of President Trump. It symbolises a global balance of power shift, says Tisdall. When the victory of Trump and populist ideals underlined ‘paradigm shift’ of the US towards isolation and disengagement, the new international order was predominantly shaped by China and Russia, and subsequently the EU which was gradually prevailing over far-right populism as French President Macron won the election and took over the emblem of the new liberal democratic nation (or nations) that embodies human rights, free and fair trade and firm actions against threats to global security. This used to be the global reputation of the United States. In such context of global balance of power shift and eventual instability where the two leaders of radical, retrograde minds coexist, it probably is a natural outcome for us to witness the tension and greater insecurity imposed upon international society.

For now, it seems countries around the world and their leaders are not confident about what should be done to resolve the situation; nothing but recognition of complex plight is what we gained. All that can console people are like words by Hankang, a South Korean novelist from her opinion article published on New York Times several weeks ago. Not only the political leaders but we, tens of thousands of individuals confronting fear and anxiety in our daily lives cannot do much but keep her words in our mind as it goes:

“We understand that any solution that is not peace is meaningless and that ‘victory’ is just an empty slogan, absurd and impossible”.

If we are to believe a war is neither a practical nor moral solution to the crisis, then the only option laid on the table for us, or at least for the two belligerent protagonists up at the stage is to stop producing meaningless verbal threats and return to tranquillity and dialogue with respect to one another.

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