After four years of silence, North Korea is testing ballistic missiles again. Those of you who were critical of former President Donald J. Trump’s unorthodox outreach to Kim Jong-un, the tyrannical ruler of North Korea, should be eating crow now (or, grass, as the North Korean regime routinely makes its people eat). Say what you will about Trump’s brash style, but he kept the peace with the purportedly crazy North Korean regime.
Remember in the early months of 2017, Trump and Kim were in a Twitter war that could have devolved into a shooting war. Things were so bad that there were almost daily briefings of senior Pentagon and U.S. intelligence officials trundling up to Congress to hyperventilate about the horrors of the coming war against North Korea. No one, these defense officials claimed, wanted this fight (except for maybe the crazies who ruled North Korea). Or at least that was what we were told.
Other foreign policy “experts” with their fancy Ivy League degrees and lucrative social connections in Washington, D.C. insisted that we could never talk to Kim Jong-un. So, war fever became a fait accompli among the Washington intelligentsia (as it so often is). Yet, in 2018 Trump did that which had helped to make him president in 2016: he bucked the experts and reversed course on the anticipated war that undoubtedly would have resulted in a nuclear weapons exchange. The initial Trump diplomatic gambit worked. While Trump could not get Kim Jong-un to abandon his pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology, he did get the young North Korean ruler to stop the provocative testing of those weapons that was prompting the war talk around the world. In so doing, Trump’s diplomacy deprived the North Korean regime of much-needed data for their growing nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs for at least four years.
Sure, North Korea maintained their investments in these programs and the Trump outreach gave Pyongyang its own reprieve necessary for building more of these terrible weapons. But the all-important experimentation and testing of these critical systems in the real world was halted. Plus, with no missiles popping off into the sunset at random, there was less of a chance for strategic miscalculation.
Trump cooled what was believed to be an increasingly hot situation on the Korean Peninsula. And his outreach, despite having failed to progress beyond the initial foray in Singapore in 2018, bought the world a much-needed reprieve from the manic swings of the mad North Korean king.
In turn, Trump’s earnest attempt at peace curried some goodwill from Pyongyang toward the West—something unheard of before (or since) Trump’s presidency.
One year into the Biden Administration, though, and all the success of the previous four years has been thrown away. Biden campaigned on a platform of “return to normal”; the restoration of purportedly “competent” and “stable” leadership in Washington. Unfortunately, the pre-Trump “normal” was endless war along with economic immiseration and domestic social upheaval. If that’s competent or stable governance in Washington, I’ll take Trump’s purported insanity.
Diplomacy, therefore, was a true setback for North Korea’s otherwise terrifying weapons of mass destruction program. It was also an immense opportunity for the West finally to move beyond the Korean War mentality that had defined its policy toward Pyongyang for decades.
China’s Double-Dealing with Kim Jong-un’s Enemies
The Trump diplomatic agenda with North Korea had created fissures with Pyongyang’s long-time ally, China. In fact, it was believed that China had been supporting Kim Jong-un’s older half-brother’s bid to replace Kim Jong-un when the North Korean dictator had his brother murdered by poison at an Indonesian airport.
Shortly after that incident, the Trump outreach began, and it looked as though a real geopolitical pivot on the part of North Korea was being made to move away from China and toward a more peaceful stance.
Of course, all these moves were merely opening bids by the players involved at the time. Sadly, since the Biden Administration has effectively erased the Trump Administration’s North Korea policy, the world will never know if there could have been any follow on to those early, genius moves by the former president. Yes, Kim Jong-un is an untrustworthy man. But it is clear that he is interested in preserving his regime’s survival—and, at least four years ago, he was open to moving his regime away from China’s orbit to get a better deal from Washington.
Trump’s North Korea diplomacy created the conditions for peace. Stumbling blocks remained but the channels for defusing conflict were finally open. Unlike past attempts, the Trump Administration’s North Korea policy was not built around giving no-strings-attached foreign aid to North Korea, as most American presidents have done. Instead, it was predicated upon a degree of respect for the fact that, better or worse, the Kim regime controlled North Korea and Washington needed to deal amicably with them.
North Korea Runs Back to China’s Arms
Unfortunately, we are experiencing the rebirth of the North Korean threat as Pyongyang not only enhances its ballistic missile capabilities and expands its nuclear weapons arsenal but—as evidenced by recent North Korean missile launches—appears to have a rudimentary hypersonic weapons capability. If that is the case, then, North Korea possesses a comprehensive capability both to threaten their neighbors and potentially to hold the United States hostage with hypersonic glide vehicles.
With Washington’s attention being distracted by events in Ukraine and the possibility of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, few are paying much heed to the startling developments on the Korean Peninsula. What’s more, there is likely little that America can do presently to deter North Korea from enhancing its ability to threaten its neighbors and the United States.
Kim Jong-un believes the Americans are weak and distracted. He clearly does not respect Joe Biden. Armed with an arsenal of new, powerful, and highly destructive weapons—and with his alliances with both Moscow and Beijing restored to their pre-Trump level of cooperation—Kim just might believe now is his time for reuniting the Korean Peninsula under his control. Given how badly the Biden Administration has performed against Russia, China, and Iran, one can assume that they will perform badly against North Korea as well. Except, unlike China or Russia, North Korea is not an ordinary nation controlled by a predictable ruler.
Either through ignorance or by design, Joe Biden is leading this country into a devastating series of wars across the arc of Eurasia—any one of which could erupt into an apocalyptic world war. This is all owing to the fact that Biden has refused to embrace the successful parts of his predecessor’s legacy. Americans everywhere are about to pay dearly for Biden’s arrogance and Kim Jong-un just might be the one maniac to cash in on Biden’s incompetence . . . with nuclear and hypersonic attacks directed at Japan, South Korea, and possibly even the West Coast of the United States.