Threats of fire and fury have become staples of North Korea’s foreign policy, particularly when addressing the United States.  Despite their rhetoric seeming abhorrent for such international interactions by most nations, China and Russia, in particular, have continued to indirectly bolster Kim Jong-un’s statements by disregarding them, and placing blame on the United States for heightening military tensions on the Korean peninsula.

Now, it would seem the United States has chosen to give North Korea’s Supreme Leader a dose of his own medicine, though unlike most threats levied by Kim’s regime, President Trump actually has the military capacity to follow through on his claims.

North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” President Trump announced from the clubhouse of his resort. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state and as I said they will be met with fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

While not uncommon for a sitting U.S. president to threaten retaliation against an aggressive state, President Trump’s delivery has ruffled the feathers of many that hoped to see a de-escalation between the United States and North Korea.  Kim Jong-un, with the witting or unwitting assistance of nations like China, has issued threats of pre-emptive nuclear strikes against U.S. targets in the mainland United States, as well as within allied nations, with such regularity that they often don’t draw the attention of mainstream news outlets, though many would claim that they expect a different type of behavior from the leader of the most powerful military on the planet.

Those who support the President’s statements, however, point out that President Trump’s diplomatic approach to North Korea and its ally China has thus far yielded a similar lack of results to the diplomatic efforts of presidents before him.  A new, more aggressive, approach, many claim, may be what is required to shake things up enough to create forward progress on the issue of North Korea’s nuclear efforts.

What the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un would understand, because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said. “I think the president just wanted to be clear to the North Korean regime on the U.S.’s unquestionable ability to defend itself.” He said the U.S. “will defend itself and its allies.”

Tillerson added that Americans should not be concerned about a rapid move toward war with North Korea on the heels of President Trump’s statements.

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“Americans should sleep well at night,” Tillerson said. He added: “Nothing that I have seen and nothing that I know of would indicate that the situation has dramatically changed in the last 24 hours.”

While some have accused Tillerson and the president of presenting disparate positions on the North Korean threat, it seems feasible that, while President Trump continues to paint North Korea into a corner by way of military threat and championing economic sanctions, Tillerson may be providing Kim Jong-un with a diplomatic “out.”  If North Korea feels as though they have no options but to initiate the nuclear war they keep threatening, the result would be disastrous for both nations, and the world.

If, however, President Trump’s hard line drives North Korea to a diplomatic agreement championed by U.S. officials like Tillerson, Kim may be able to escape the precipice of nuclear war while still saving some face in the minds of his people – something that is certainly a concern for the dictator.  From Trump’s standpoint, that allows him to present a firm stance on aggressive nations, while still winning an overall diplomatic victory for his administration.

The pressure is starting to show,” Tillerson said. “I think that’s why the rhetoric coming out of Pyongyang is beginning to become louder and more threatening. Whether we’ve got them backed into a corner or not is difficult to say, but diplomatically, you never like to have someone in a corner without a way for them to get out.”

Image courtesy of the U.S. State Department