President Donald Trump must choose his words more carefully, lest he lead the United States down a path that could result in a military conflict that would prove disastrous.
The game of chicken Trump and Korean leader Kim Jong-un have played since Trump’s inauguration is likely giving military commanders in both countries serious indigestion. But the world doesn’t look to North Korea for leadership. It looks, in part, to the United States. In that respect, Trump has to be better than Kim.
For all the attention given Trump’s speech at the United Nations, much of it was standard fare offered up by previous administrations. There were, however, portions of the speech that were troubling. Trump said of Kim, “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime.” It is disturbing because it gives credence to the notion that Kim is a crazy man, ready to go to war or to launch a nuclear weapon at a moment’s notice.
The reality is, North Korea has been deterred from engaging in any large-scale military action since 1953. Kim and his father, as well as his grandfather, have managed to stay in power for that long, suggesting they are rational actors and are motivated by self-interest and their own survival.
To that end, Trump has the opportunity to utilise diplomatic solutions to keep North Korea in check. Some may argue the United States and the rest of the world have exhausted all diplomatic solutions. Not so, says former Secretary of State John Kerry.
In a recent appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Kerry said there are fewer sanctions against North Korea, which has a nuclear weapon, than there are against Iran, which doesn’t.
Unfortunately, Trump cannot do it alone.
Any new sanctions against North Korea require UN Security Council approval, and that means Trump must engage China to get them to go along. China did sign on to the most recent sanctions against North Korea, but if Trump wants more and to have the rest of the world siding with him, it will require diplomacy - not heavy-handed tweets.
Trump’s view on sovereignty in his UN speech leaves much to be desired. He said: “ ... we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties, to respect the interests of their own people and rights of every other sovereign nation.”
Saying this allows for despotic and authoritarian regimes to claim they’re exercising a similar view of sovereignty held by Trump. As such, China could veto sanctions offered by the UN Security Council, with Xi Jinping arguing sanctions do not benefit the “interests” of the people of China as they are North Korea’s largest trading partner.
Diplomacy is not easy. Bombast gets headlines, but it rarely produces results. Trump can avoid boxing himself into a corner and win out over North Korea using a diplomatic solution. But it will require patience and what he claims to be the best at doing - negotiation.
It is time for him to put his negotiating skills to use.
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