Donald Trump, president of the United States, and Kim Jong Un, dictator of North Korea, are engaged in a pissing contest of epic proportions. Each leader has spent the past week hurling insults at the other, from Trump’s “Rocket Man” comment to Kim Jong Un calling Trump “deranged.” It is in the personal interest of neither, from what we can understand, to back down; each leader is notorious for having thin skin. Trump has shown time and time again that he doesn’t back down from any insults hurled at him, and given the profile of Kim Jong Un, this makes the possibility of de-escalation even less likely.
Instead of pride being at stake, however, the risk is war, carnage, and massive amounts of brutal violence and death on the Korean Peninsula.
This is in response to the North Korean nuclear weapons program and their constant tests and assurances that missiles could reach the United States and South Korea. The U.S. military has done fly-bys in shows of force to assert their own strength in the area. As of quite recently, the North Korean government has claimed that they retain the right to shoot down planes flying close to North Korean airspace, even if they aren’t within the airspace itself.
Why? Because Pyongyang has declared that one of Trump’s tweets was an act of war. They claim, on the grounds that Trump said that North Korean leadership wouldn’t be around for much longer, Trump threatened their government. The US government responded, by claiming that the assertion of a declaration of war was “absurd.”
This is stunning to me. It’s incredible that this much international fear and anxiety is being drummed up by two competing egos, each trying to swallow the other. This war of words consumed the international stage, attracting huge amounts of attention.
I don’t foresee war. I believe that China will step in, should it get to the eleventh hour, and help negotiate some sort of peaceful solution. The United Nations will also make an attempt to negotiate peace. However, I don’t see it getting this far. Should Trump attack Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, he risks the lives of millions of civilians not only there, but also in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, who North Korea would attack in any given combat scenario. It’s been estimated that 25 million people live in the Metropolitan area of Seoul, and any preemptive strike would risk the lives of civilians in both cities.
As far as aggression goes, this has struck me as something petty; given Trump’s eagerness to jump out at any bait that’s tossed his way, along with his lack of any sense of decorum when he goes after something that he doesn’t like, any retaliation by Kim Jong Un could set him off. And given Kim Jong Un’s obsession with nuclear weapons, and his drive towards military superiority, it’s no surprise that the international community is nervous. In the end, I believe that we can trust the sense of the international community to help avoid an incident that could have repercussions for years to come. For now, we can just watch and see.