North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), has posed a threat to national security for many years. An interesting fact is that the U.S. is still technically at war with North Korea, after the Korean War (1950-1953) ended in a truce, rather than a formal peace treaty. The political aftermath of this war, and the resulting leadership that took hold in the northern partition of the Korean Peninsula, has weighed more heavily on each successive President’s foreign policy agenda.
President Trump and his administration are currently at an inflection point in U.S.-North Korea relations as Kim Jong-un has fulfilled the nuclear ambitions of the Hermit Kingdom. At this time, military experts believe that North Korea has successfully miniaturized a nuclear warhead that can fit on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). This is a very important milestone, as it allows the Hermit kingdom to project its nuclear weapons far beyond its borders; without an ICBM, the effective range of a nuclear weapon would be functionally limited to its nearest enemies, such as South Korea and Japan. North Korea has officially advanced from the days of dropping a nuclear bomb by plane, into the modern age of nuclear weaponization.
On Tuesday, August 8, President Trump issued a strong warning to the leadership of North Korea: “they [North Korea] will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Two days later, he bolstered this threat: “if anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough.” The strength of this rhetoric is rare for a President, but it is not out of place in the current bilateral escalation.
In July, North Korea launched two ICBMs, the last of which was launched on July 29, flying for more than 2,300 miles before crashing into the Sea of Japan, dangerously close to Japan’s borders. Missile expert David Wright believes that this ICBM has the potential to reach large U.S. cities on the East Coast, giving it a range of over 6,000 miles.
Following this test, the U.S. drafted and proposed a sanction resolution in the UN Security Council targeting North Korea exports, namely with its closest ally and bordering country China. This resolution, targeting up to three billion dollars of North Korean export goods, passed on August 5th with all nine countries, including China, voting to sanction the North Korean regime. The same day, H.R. McMaster, President Trump’s National Security Adviser, acknowledged the possibility of a “preventative war” with the DPRK in an interview with Hugh Hewitt.
In North Korea, the talk has been even more aggressive. For several months, North Korea has condemned the military exercises the U.S. has conducted with its allies South Korea and Japan. Many of these exercises were in response to repeated North Korean missile tests and underground nuclear detonations. North Korea’s response to the UN sanctions was outrage, asserting that the DPRK “will respond with strong follow-up measures and acts of justice.” In the days since President Trump’s comments, the DPRK has twice threatened to launch a nuclear ICBM at Guam, a U.S. territory in the Pacific Ocean.
This conflict will likely continue, as North Korea has made it clear that it will not negotiate a nuclear disarmament. It sees these weapons “as its legitimate self-defensive option” against “the hostile policy and nuclear threat of the U.S.” Escalation of words will most likely follow, along with the ever-present fear of military action. However, one thing is certain; President Trump and his Administration preside over the most precarious situation ever seen in the Korean Peninsula.