North Korea Holds A Better Hand Than Trump

By David Malcolm

Kim Jong-un is often considered by many to be a lunatic, but for me, the Kim regime isn’t crazy. Ruthless, combative and slightly delusional maybe but not crazy. Kim Jong-un knows what he’s doing and he has a fair idea of what he can technically get away with. He is also a keen and careful observer although it is questionable whether he has taken the right lessons away from what he’s learned. He wants nuclear weapons to avoid becoming Asia’s Saddam Hussein, overthrown by the aggressive Yankees.

North Korea’s main strategy is to play the saber-rattling brinksmanship game as much as possible, keeping the world on edge and proving that they are untouchable. Normally, America’s reaction is predictable but now Donald Trump has thrown down the gauntlet and now the Kim regime is dealing with something very different.

Kim Jong-un is probably delighted in some way by Trump’s rise to become President. He is the gift that keeps on giving. Finally, North Korean propaganda has an excellent example to remind its people why America cannot be trusted. Trump represents the very worst of America: arrogance, aggressive, selfish, uncaring, trampling on the backs of the workers. His unpredictability means that any actions he takes against North Korea serve as propaganda, just as the travel ban is effectively a recruitment tool for ISIS.
Trump’s unpredictable ways will also hurt both America’s allies and those who hold the key to restraining North Korea. Since Trump desires to get rid of Korus, America’s trade deal with South Korea, Kim can point to divisions in the capitalist ranks. The threats of a trade war between the US and China also means that Kim can confidently rely on China keeping his regime propped up for a while longer.

Trump’s threats of war also fail to scare Kim Jong-un. Despite the fact that North Korea’s military is technically inferior to the United States, the damage it can cause cannot be underestimated. The war will likely take place in Korea itself and an invasion will see Seoul destroyed, thousands of US and Korean soldiers dead and millions of civilian casualties as America gets sucked into a brutal slogging match. Add in the possibility of China’s involvement, the possibility of a nuclear exchange and you can see why people get jumpy when Trump starts his Twitter rants.

Even if America wins the war and China stays out of it, even if nuclear weapons are never used, America has to pick up the pieces of a possible conflict. It’ll be a Vietnam/Iraq/Afghanistan situation all over again. Roving bandits and guerrilla fighters will prolong the war while occupying and repairing the country will drain precious resources. Money and troops will need to be maintained for a time unless China decides it doesn’t want American troops on its borders. Kim Jong-un might be dead by then, but given the chaos that would be unleashed afterward, he might as well have won.

But Kim Jong-un doesn’t want to die or see his country fall into American hands. He is probably aware of the platform Trump ran on and knows that as much as Americans hate dictatorship, they hate costly foreign wars just as much. Tweets and nicknames based on Elton John songs cannot hurt Kim Jong-un. What Trump regards as an insult is probably a title of honor for Kim. In fact, they actually benefit him by presenting Trump as a moronic amateur and making Kim seem like the reasonable party. When he refrains from invading Guam or states that the US is the bigger threat after an early morning rant from Trump, it’s hard not to totally disagree.

China also stands to benefit from Trump’s madness. If North Korea and Kim Jong-un are seen to be willing to bend to China’s demands, it could be the signal of a new global power and the exit of America from the world stage. Donald Trump has sought to make enemies of his allies by pulling out of climate change agreements, harassing NATO members over membership fees and threatening the deal with Iran despite almost everyone from European leaders to his own military telling him not to. To China and North Korea, putting ‘America First’ means walking off the global stage and allowing others to pick up the pieces or advance their own agendas.

North Korea is also watching whether Trump will refuse to certify Iran’s nuclear deal. If he rejects the deal, it’ll signal that Trump is simply a warmongering danger and will make North Korea less likely to enter talks with the USA. After all, why sign a deal when the other party might back out at any minute? It will also serve to divide America’s attention and allow Kim Jong-un to apply even more pressure.

Of course, much of this is speculation. Kim Jong-un might well be crazy as everyone says and it’s unlikely that they will follow China’s word. Kim Jong-un knows that he can’t keep up the game of brinksmanship forever. Sooner or later, someone will run out of patience, whether it’s Trump, China or the courtiers surrounding Kim. The nuclear weapons programme seems to be reaching its final stages, but there’s no telling whether it’ll work as effectively as North Korea’s media promises or that it will keep invaders from the door. With the escalating war of words, a simple misunderstanding or mistake could spark the world’s next world war.

Regardless, Kim Jong-un holds a better hand than Trump. He has the potential to develop nuclear weapons, he has China in his back pocket (at least for now) and he knows that Trump would be foolish to risk unleashing World War 3. Even if a cryptic Tweet does spark conflict, Kim will be the real winner in the end and America will be the loser.

I'm a historian based in the UK who likes jumping from one thought to next. I love to learn new things and explore other ideas.

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