While the Trump’s threats against North Korea are making Fox News giddy with the prospect of another Big American War, the real world ramifications are decidedly less glamorous. One of the major reasons why rather than approach the situation carefully and intelligently, Trump is wading in with a policy so confusing that the possibilities for an extreme cock up are almost endless.
Firstly, every rational analyst familiar with North Korea and its complex relationship with China knows that you can’t just demand the country dismantle its nuclear arsenal. With its horrendous economy, North Korea has few bargaining chips on the international scene, so it’s huge military and nuclear capabilities are the only way it commands respect. Once that is taken away, it has no other bargaining tools. This effectively means Kim Jong Un has nothing to lose when going into any negotiation and will use everything in his arsenal if attacked.
In tandem with Trump’s “armada” sailing towards North Korean waters, CNN reported today that the Trump administration is apparently trying to coax China into applying pressure on the despotic regime by offering them a more advantageous trade deal with the US — a rather shocking proposition given Trump ran his campaign promising to stop China economically “raping” the US:
President Donald Trump, eager to stop rapid advances in North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, is signaling a break with decades of US policy as he looks to coax China into ramping up the pressure on North Korea.
Trump’s sweetening the pot, offering China better trade terms if the Asian powerhouse takes steps to put North Korea’s provocative behavior to rest. China accounts for 80% of North Korea’s foreign trade and has significant political leverage over North Korea.
Trump may think this is good negotiating, but in reality it just signals more confusion. What is his policy towards China? Is he looking out for the interests of American workers when it comes to trade deals, or are they just bargaining chips to stop North Korea developing its nuclear capabilities? It is unclear what threat Trump believes North Korea actually represents and why it effects US interests. This lends to the perception that Trump is creating a new conflict to distract the public from his abysmal approval ratings at home and his inability to pass any of the legislation he promised.
Regardless of any “sweet deal”, China is highly unlikely to apply the sort of pressure Trump wants given it is extremely wary about triggering a collapse of the North Korean state and the inevitable influx of millions of refugees. Economic sanctions on North Korea have very serious humanitarian consequences and would put North Korean lives in serious danger.
The aggressive, confusing signals coming from the Trump administration do not make the president look like a strong, resolute leader — they make him look like an uncontrolled pretender who is completely out of his depth. NY Mag spoke to George Lopez, professor emeritus at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, who had this to say about the Trump administration’s aimless aggression:
It’s unclear who is the Asia expert most influential in the White House’s national security staff, and the last time I checked the State Department chart, we still didn’t have a fully staffed Bureau of Asian Affairs. Have we seen, in any pronouncement where he’s talked about North Korea, anybody other than Jared Kushner, the vice-president, H.R. McMaster, or James Mattis at his side? No.
That gives many of us pause, because he’s not getting enough information about the way North Korea sees the actions he’s taken. So we’re in a kind of fog of actions in search of a strategy and a policy. I think it’s part of this administration’s style to make some big decisions as they go along, as events and opportunities and constraints present themselves. The difference here is that you’re talking about the potential for war, and I don’t sense an understanding of the gravity of that
The bigger picture here is extremely alarming as it is yet another unnecessary crisis manufactured by a deeply disturbed man who has no business leading the most powerful nation on earth. Trump’s ability to create chaos all around him is unparalleled, and while this has in many cases been key to his political survival, it won’t do much for the survival of everyone else. The concerns over a global crisis spiraling out of control are very real and with every day Trump remains in power, the closer we are to a conflict we may not be able to contain.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.