In 2010, the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea openly declared its possession of a nuclear weapon. The isolated Asian nation, lead by dictator Kim Jong-un, has dedicated itself to expanding the size and precision of its nuclear program. The nation’s weapons serve as a protection against the threat of regime change brought by the U.S., its greatest enemy. North Korea has strong reason to believe the U.S. State-controlled North Korean media regularly delivers warnings to Japan and South Korea, two economic and diplomatic allies with the U.S. Also, both Amnesty International and the United Nations have dubbed Kim a human rights abuser who has followed the ruthless tactics of his father and grandfather by operating concentration camps for political dissenters and shutting of complete access to and from the hermit kingdom.
During the Obama presidency, the White House countered North Korean aggression through economic sanctions that limit North Korea’s access to fossil fuels and borrowing of capital from the global financial system. Made in international bodies like the U.N. However, these sanctions were often softened or blunted by another Security Council nation: China, which shares a common border with North Korea. If sanctions were strong enough to destabilize the North Korean government, the lack of central authority may lead to mass famine and migration into China. Unwilling to deal with a full blown North Korean humanitarian crisis, China has coerced the U.S. to soften any imposed sanction.
The new administration, however, seems less keen on working with Beijing to maintain a compromised solution for the region’s instability. Unlike Obama, Trump wants bolder action, and has vowed to “solve” the regional tension before the North Koreans develop the technology needed for an intercontinental ballistic missile; an ICBM would allow for nuclear bombs to reach at least the American West Coast, and cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. Analysts project that North Korea will have this technology at least by the end of Trump’s first term. Despite the lack of a clear solution, time is ticking for the Trump administration, giving it limited time to solve what other presidencies failed to do: stabilize North Korea and eliminate or at least minimize its threats to the American public, not to mention to South Korea.
“Solving” North Korea is also needed for another reason: to maintain a strong American presence in the Asia-Pacific. Japan and South Korea have held off on creating their own nuclear arsenal against the North Koreans because they have the backing of the American military. Both nations have resources to create nuclear bombs, yet decades of American alliances has led them to trust in the U.S.’ ability to defend them against Pyongyang. However, Trump departs from many of his Democratic and Republican predecessors and has suggested that Japan and South Korea should be required to either pay for American protection or develop their own weapons — a policy position in direct contradiction to the U.S.’ long-standing policy of limiting nuclear proliferation.
During his short reign, Kim Jong-un has built a reputation for creating an atmosphere of fear within Pyongyang’s ruling elites, as he has beheaded multiple family members. He is also known for paranoia and distrust. By the end of this decade, he will possess the nuclear capability to reach the U.S. and bring the world closer than it ever has been to WWIII. His unstable personality, combined with unstable weaponry poses a threat to the world at large. For Trump, dealing with North Korea will be more serious than it has been for past administrations. The growing might of North Korea will now be an unavoidable threat to our current global order that cannot be as easily ignored as it has been in the past.