President Trump ordered the Syrian attack on April 6 during President Xi Jinping’s first official visit to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, where the two leaders discussed a variety of topics, including North Korea.
Viewed by North Korea as a provocative new stance, the BBC cited an unnamed North Korean government official who called the strike in Syria “an intolerable act of aggression against a sovereign state,” also noting it was a good reason for the North to bolster its defences.
Tensions continued to increase when on April 8, a U.S. aircraft carrier strike force was apparently diverted from Singapore to the Western Pacific, however the actual timeline of the armada’s movements has been called into question.
All of this has combined with a frenzy of American media conjecture, creating a new and unproductive level of manufactured uncertainty surrounding military action on the peninsula.
On April 15, North Korea celebrated the “Day of the Sun”, the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, who took power following World War II.
Considered to be their most important national holiday, the occasion is traditionally marked by massive parades in which North Korea’s military capabilities are put on display, including their internationally condemned nuclear and missile programs.
▲ Missles on parade Photo courtesy CNN
Experts have been debating whether Kim may soon have intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of reaching U.S. shores. It’s an issue that has played heavily in current tensions.
On April 16, North Korea conducted yet another a missile test. The missile, however, crashed into the waters of the East Sea shortly after takeoff.
There has been speculation that the technology was faulty, however cyber attacks by American intelligence personnel have not been ruled out. A recent New York Times piece speculated that a US-led cyberwar against North Korea has actually been going on for years now.
The failure of this test, however, did little to assuage international power-posturing.
On April 17, during an unannounced visit to the Korean demilitarized zone, American vice-president Mike Pence said that the “era of strategic patience is over.”
▲ Tough talk by the V.P. Photo courtesy Gage Skidmore
His comments came on the same day that Defense News reported the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson's strike group had not, in fact, even begun to head towards Korea as the US administration had led people to believe.
This ambiguity was met with consternation and questions about the honesty of the White House.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Hong Joon-pyo - a far-right conservative candidate running in the upcoming presidential election to replace recently impeached ex-president Park Geun-hye - said “If that was a lie, then during the Trump term, South Korea will not trust whatever Trump says.”
Both North Korea and the United States have gone on to threaten one another, most notably with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham urging a pre-emptive military strike during an interview on NBC News’ Today Show on April 19.
This was the same day Vice President Pence issued a second bellicose and strangely florid warning from the deck of the USS Ronald Reagan,"The United States of America will always seek peace but under President Trump, the shield stands guard and the sword stands ready."
Obviously this has all led to an enormous amount of confusion and tension as politicians, the media, and the general public try to untie an increasingly convoluted series of events. By itself, this confusion represents perhaps a greater threat to global security than any single political regime.
And while the American media has portrayed the situation as ready to explode at any moment, the majority of residents in Korea are confident that there will not be an escalation of hostilities to the point of nuclear war.
A number of residents have stated that they are “more concerned about what Trump might do rather than threats from the North,” with Reuters news correspondent James Pearson in Seoul adding that, “South Koreans are generally not interested in the fireworks north of the DMZ."
Moon Jae-in, the Democratic Party nominee and front-runner in the upcoming Korean election, told the New York Times that he wanted to seek dialogue with North Korea. He also expressed skepticism about the hawkish stance of both Korean and US conservatives.
And unfortunately, this is all part of a larger cycle in the region that is somehow remaining largely unreported.
According to David Kang, the director of the University of Southern California’s Korean Studies Institute, this cycle occurs on a yearly basis, where there are threats and provocations around the same time every year, but reverting back to “business as usual” the rest of the time.
He adds that both Trump and Kim are “erratic” figures, and that the provocations will most likely lead to nothing, as has been the status quo for almost 70 years since the armistice in 1953.
Will the deterrent of mutually assured destruction maintain this cycle or have key changes occurred? How is saber rattling part of the daily maintenance of this system, and how do the key players in this game know if they’ve gone too far? And lastly, how much of this rhetoric is actually helping to reach a satisfactory result?
Those with a deeper knowledge of the conflict would say none at all. Conflict can and should be avoided in the long run for the good of the region and the rest of the world.
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