It’s unclear what North Korean dictator Kim Jung-un pays close attention to, other than expensive champagne and any domestic rivals he even suspects of ambitions. They’ve been executed by anti-aircraft gun.
Kim might be tempted to try something dangerous on the Korean Peninsula given the current political turmoil, impeachment and arrest of South Korea’s president on corruption charges.
But if Kim was paying attention to the new Trump administration, he would have noticed that in the past month, not by coincidence, the new president’s top two national defense/foreign policy aides both visited South Korea. And both talked far tougher than the previous administration about Kim’s erratic behavior, nuclear weapons development and threats to both their South Korean neighbor and the United States.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that the era of “strategic patience” had been terminated and all reactions to a communist attack remained on the table. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a former general himself, said:
“Right now, (North Korea) appears to be going in a very reckless manner … and that has got to be stopped.”
After Seoul talks with his South Korean counterpart, Mattis told reporters: “Any attack on the United States, or our allies, will be defeated, and any use of nuclear weapons would be met with a response that would be effective and overwhelming.”
Now, there is no indication that Kim is likely to moderate his behavior. So, the tougher Trump talk is really aimed at other countries internationally and specifically in the region to avoid surprise and misunderstanding should some form of retaliation or preemptive action be deemed necessary.
Words do matter. Soon after World War II and the peninsula’s liberation from Japan, some loose talk by Washington officials gave Kim’s grandfather, the country’s founding dictator, the impression that the U.S. viewed the Koreas as outside its sphere of interest.
On June 25, 1950, Grandpa Kim invaded the South, igniting the Korean War, which lasted three years and still technically has no peace treaty. Kim had the backing then of China. Oh, look. China’s current president Xi Jinping will meet President Trump in Florida late next week.
Despite longstanding U.S. pressures, China has seemed reluctant to exert much muscle on Kim for fear of increasing instability in the impoverished neighbor of 25 million, many of them chronically starving and a potential refugee flood. Think Syrian civil war.
Kim says he has the capability of launching nuclear-weaponized ICBMs on U.S. targets now. Weapons experts say they think he might be a few years shy of an ICBM capable of crossing the Pacific. However, if you look closely at the photo above, that missile was launched from a submerged submarine not far offshore.