Although it would seem that the most immediate threat of war with North Korea has been averted, tensions between the two nations remain high, and the U.S. is not backing down from its aggressive stance.

Earlier this week, Kim Jong-un announced that he would place plans to launch four long-range ballistic missiles toward Guam on hold, as he assesses the behavior of the United States.  This decision came after President Donald Trump and a number of members of his cabinet made public statements indicating, in no uncertain terms, that the United States was prepared to go to war if North Korea attempted a missile strike on any U.S. or allied target.  Although the president received harsh criticism for the change in tactic, it would seem it may have been enough to make the North Korean leader reconsider the planned provocation.

As a part of the U.S. effort to apply increasing economic and diplomatic pressure on Kim Jong-un’s regime, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, Marine General Joseph Dunford, is currently amid a Pacific tour that has thus far included stops in Hawaii and China, and will continue through meetings set in Japan and South Korea before he returns to Washington.  During his stop in China, Dunford and his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Fang Fenghui, the senior military leader for the China’s People’s Liberation Army, signed a joint communications agreement intended to help mitigate tensions between China and the United States.

China has been extremely critical of how the United States has handled relations with North Korea throughout what has developed into a type of nuclear standoff.  They continued with this chain of rhetoric this week by criticizing the United States’ planned joint military exercises with South Korea scheduled to begin later this month, suggesting that the drills may serve to further provoke Kim’s North Korean regime, who claim these drills are actually intended as a “rehearsal” for an invasion of the reclusive state.

General Dunford reportedly responded to these concerns by stating plainly that the drills were not up for debate, and that they will continue as planned, emphasizing once again that joint military exercises with South Korea are entirely defensive in nature.

According to KCNA, North Korea’s official news agency, the United States and South Korea don’t have to intend to start a war during their scheduled drills, which commence on the 21st, as war could break out simply because of their presence.

Mattis backs up Trump's threats, North Korea appears to back down on missile launch toward Guam

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“Even if no one wanted it, they would not be able to prevent a mere accidental spark from triggering a war,” a KCNA delivered statement said.

The United States has repeatedly stated that diplomacy is the preferred method of the Trump administration, but in the face of the threat of nuclear strikes, the U.S. would be prepared to take military action.

As a military leader, I have to make sure that the president does have viable military options in the event that the diplomatic and economic pressurization campaign fails,” General Dunford told reporters on his plane. “But even as we develop those options, we are mindful of the consequences of those options, and that gives us a greater sense of urgency to make sure we are doing everything we absolutely can to support Secretary Tillerson’s path.”

South Korea, who would potentially stand to lose the most in a war with North Korea (despite the U.S. led allied coalition assuring victory) has made it clear that they will work to prevent a war by any means they have at their disposal, and as far as their president is concerned, that mindset does not run counter to the U.S. strategy.

Against North Korea, even with extreme pressure, it has to be solved peacefully and our opinion and US opinion about this matter is not different,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said. “The government, putting everything on the line, will block war by all means.”

If the United States is bluffing about taking military action, which seems unlikely, Moon may have taken some of the wind out of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s negotiating sales, but Moon did make sure to add that North Korea still stands to lose a great deal by way of sanctions if they do not cooperate.

“If North Korea provokes again, it will face with much harsher sanction and won’t stand it in the end. I want to warn North Korea to do no more dangerous gambling,” Moon said.

 

Image courtesy of the Joint Chiefs of Staff official website