North Korea would have been nothing but an irritant to the rest of the world because it does not conduct its foreign relations in accordance with the established international norms. It has very little to offer to the world and is located in a part of the globe where for the other countries, it has very little value, strategic or otherwise.
That it has nevertheless gained world attention has been due to the fact it is a nuclear weapons state showing serious intention of using its nuclear weapons against any state if provoked. And two of the most important and trusted allies of the USA and the West, namely Japan and South Korea are in perpetual fear of becoming the victims should North Korea feel provoked.
North Korea is under an extremely unstable and dangerous regime, one that could do things that reason would forbid any other country from doing. The present leader Kim Jong Un, the grandson of the Great Leader Kim IL Sung, has killed some of his closest aides and relatives for the flimsiest of reasons. Therefore, there is really nothing he would not possibly do in international politics to get what he wants. And experts fear that North Korea would be able to develop "a nuclear-armed ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland in three to five years" that would almost coincide with President Trump's term in office.
On the campaign trail, President Trump did not show any serious grasp of the danger from North Korea. He had called the reclusive North Korean leader "a bad dude", a "madman" with whom he would cut a "good deal…over a hamburger." The North Koreans felt that there was a major weakness in such a casual and unprofessional approach towards their regime and its leader that they would be able to exploit if he became the president.
Therefore in June last year, DPRK Today, a mouthpiece of the North Korean regime, described Donald Trump as a "wise politician" and "a prescient presidential candidate." They, no doubt, assessed him poorly because there was deep sarcasm in what DPRK Today said. The North Koreans did not wait to test what it thought of the new US president. It conducted a new ballistic missile test very soon after President Donald Trump's inauguration.
In fact, they chose to maximise their nuisance value by conducting the test when President Donald Trump was entertaining the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in his Mar-a-Lago mansion in Florida that caught him and his new and inexperienced administration unawares and scrambling for ways to respond. In a hastily arranged news conference, President Trump appeared shaken and "grim". He avoided commenting on the missile test and pledged full support for Japan. Prime Minister Abe called the test "absolutely intolerable."
The North Korea's test was in violation of a series of UN resolutions. Nevertheless, it nonchalantly sidetracked those resolutions and instead announced that it was preparing for a new nuclear test to coincide with the 105th birthday celebrations of the Great Leader Kim IL Sung on April 15. Those developments dented President Trump's confidence that he would be able to cut a deal with the North Korean leader "over hamburger."
President Trump instead reacted with an airstrike in a Syrian airfield using the excuse that the Syrian regime had used chemical gas against its own people. He also ordered the "the mother of all bombs" to be dropped in Afghanistan. Experts believe that both the decisions of President Trump were intended to send the message to North Korea that if it did not stop pushing the United States beyond "its strategic patience", it would face the same fate.
President Trump also ordered USS Carl Vinson carrier to the Korean Peninsula "with preparation to launch a pre-emptive military strike against North Korea if it follows through with the nuclear test." North Korea did not conduct the nuclear test on April 15th but going by the Chinese reactions that suspended all flights to North Korea that remained suspended at the time of filing this article, the North Koreans have not given up their intention to conduct the nuclear test anytime soon.
In massive celebrations in Pyongyang to mark the Great Leader's birth anniversary, North Korea showcased missiles that experts believe were meant as its response to the tough stance of President Trump and the sirstrikes in Syria and bombing in Afghanistan. The North Koreans have been nonchalant to these implied US threats and have neither shown nervousness nor tension. In fact, the North Korean leader has been visible in the media laughing in a manner that gave the impression that he was enjoying all the attention of the world media and the way the US President was behaving.
President Trump is learning the hard way that his self-proclaimed negotiating skills about which he had boasted so much on the campaign trail is worth nothing with North Korea because the hermit nation does not believe in negotiations of the type he had in mind. Nevertheless, the other stakeholders, particularly China is uneasy because in the past no US president had tried to deal with North Korea the way President Trump has.
China's uneasiness also emanates from the fact that it does not have the type of stranglehold on North Korea it had in the times of the Great Leader and the Dear Leader. Therefore, it fears that if President Trump were to drop "the mother of all bombs" in North Korea or carry out any form of pre-emptive strike or try anything foolhardy, it could start a nuclear holocaust of proportions too dangerous even to contemplate.
Therefore, President Jinping urged his host at their meeting in Mar-a-Lago to cool down on the extremely dangerous option of pre-emptive strikes and/or bombing North Korea. President Trump tweeted after the meeting that he "had a very good call last night with the President of China concerning the menace of North Korea" that led analysts to suggest that a "new phase" of China-US relations could start through cooperation to resolve the dangerous tensions in the Korean Peninsula. In the process, though, President Trump has committed his country to the One China policy. He has also withdrawn himself from making those scathing attacks on China of the campaign days.
President Trump is still trying to appear tough on North Korea. Nevertheless, even if North Korea were to conduct the postponed nuclear test, Washington would still have to show more strategic patience and depend upon China to encourage its belligerent neighbour to abide by the UN resolutions against it on nuclear and ballistic missiles tests.
The tense situation over the Korean Peninsula shows that there is no room for President Trump's ways in conducting international politics where cool approach is the way of the wise leader -- and perhaps the only way if the US and its allies are not prepared for a nuclear war.
The writer is a former Ambassador.