How imminent is the onslaught of war?
As one article after another continues to flood the news channels regarding the tensions between U.S. and North Korea (DPRK), as well as the surrounding conflicts with Russia and China, one cannot help but think that we are indeed on the brink of World War III. Yet amidst the heart-gripping rollercoaster ride, one usually hard-line voice on U.S. policies towards DPRK expresses that there is “plenty of diplomatic runway” left in dealing with the conflicts.
U.S. Senator Cory Gardner emphasized his point that there “… is plenty of room for… diplomatic pressure and economic pressure” on the DPRK regime, adding that the key will be to “ramp up both dials of pressure” from the diplomatic and economic fronts.
Gardner’s comments about the “diplomatic runway” came after Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, announced that the U.S. had several channels of direct communications with DPRK. This was repudiated by Trump a day later in his tweet, stating that he “told Rex Tillerson… that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man… [and that] being nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now? Clinton failed, Bush failed, and Obama failed. I won’t fail.”
In support of Gardner, and condemnation of Trump, Gardner’s counterpart, Ted Yoho, also emphasized the importance of continued diplomacy with DPRK, but not before “taking the President’s Twitter away”.
Yoho said in an interview that there needs to be “a clear single message… It is sanctions, and it cannot be unilateral sanctions… It has to be other countries… And we commend Singapore…” He also added that “through sanctions… [would] create the need for talks… If you’re not willing to talk, what’s your other option? War? I don’t want war.”
Amidst the political squabble within the White House, DPRK’s continued nuclear missile tests, and threats thrown back and forth, experts still say that you should not panic just yet.
Here is why:
1. Nobody actually wants a war
Evident in Gardner and Yoho’s opinions (which we should believe represents the general sentiments more than Trump’s) is a continual emphasize on diplomatic dealings. None of the governments are suicidal, and a war serves no one’s interests.
In fact, DPRK’s goal is to survive, and precisely why it has been pushing so hard for nuclear power. Having this capability, DPRK reasons, would protect the government by raising the costs of confrontation with it.
2. All these exchanges are just words, not actions (hopefully)
Trump may have threatened DPRK with language unbefitting for a president, but this does not mean that the U.S. is actively moving towards a war footing. The clear emphasize is on diplomacy and economics, along with Trump’s disruptive additional comments through Twitter.
A U.S. military official summed the scenario up nicely, saying that “just because the rhetoric goes up, doesn’t mean our posture changes.” Max Fisher from the New York Times agrees, adding that “these are the sorts of signals, not a leader’s offhand comments, that matter most in international relations.”
Yet, the threat is of course still real and unpredictable. Analysts say that any miscalculated move in the current environment could lead to an accidental war, which is by no means an unfamiliar scenario in history.
For instance, U.S. bombers recently took air space close to DPRK in a show of power. DPRK responded with an offensive stance, citing a right to gun down U.S. bombers as Trump had “declared war” on them.
Then again, this is not the first time that DPRK has accused the US of declaring war on it, which brings us to the last point.
3. We have been here and done this
Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, P.J. Crowley, points out that the U.S. and DPRK came close to armed conflict in 1994, when Pyongyang officials refused to allow international inspectors into its nuclear facilities.
DPRK has, in many instances, made incendiary threats against Japan, South Korea and the U.S. Trump’s rhetoric, on the other hand, is not exactly unprecedented from a U.S. president. Crowley states that “in many different forms, albeit not as colourful, the U.S. has always said that if North Korea ever attacks, the regime will cease to exist.” With all the exchanges over the years, it seems like this is simply an episode of dramatic dialogue, remastered.
Then again, as aforementioned, anything could trigger an accidental war at this point of time. Also, one big difference this time is that Trump appears to suggest he might take pre-emptive action (though the rest of White House has played this down). South Korea has even called for a slow-down of rhetoric from U.S. and DPRK. Nobody wants Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un to think an attack is imminent.
We can only hope and pray that certain people come to their senses.