As House Democrats continue to draft articles of impeachment, alleging that President Trump abused his executive power for personal political gain, North Korean officials have taken notice and begun incorporating America’s domestic woes into their media statements.
After months of aggressive posturing in media outlets and social media, Trump adopted a much more dove-like approach to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un once they began speaking in person. In fact, since Trump and Kim first met, one could argue that Trump has taken the most conciliatory tone of any modern president vis-à-vis North Korea’s regime. He has since often spoken kindly, in public fora, of the isolated nation’s leader.
However, after what early on seemed like rapid progress toward the eventual denuclearization of North Korea, progress now has slowed to a near-halt as the end-of-the-year deadline promulgated by North Korea approaches.
“The dialogue touted by the U.S. is, in essence, nothing but a foolish trick hatched to keep the DPRK bound to dialogue and use it in favor of the political situation and election in the U.S.,” Ri Thae Song, a first vice minister at the North Korean Foreign Ministry working on U.S. affairs, told the press. “It is entirely up to the U.S. what Christmas gift it will select to get.”
As for what, exactly, Ri was talking about with that “Christmas gift” remark no one is entirely sure. Many have postulated, however, that it was maybe meant as a warning that North Korea plans to renew testing of either its nuclear weapons program or the ballistic missile program that is intended to carry its rapidly developing nuclear weapons.
Prior to a freeze in testing brought about through talks between Trump, Kim and, to a large extent, South Korea’s President Moon Jae In, U.S. intelligence had confirmed that North Korea’s most recent nuclear test was of a hydrogen bomb — also known as a thermonuclear weapon. These bombs are significantly more powerful than traditional atomic bombs, and according to defense experts that have poured over images of Kim’s weapons program, it seems all but certain that North Korea now possesses the ability to mount a “miniaturized” version of such a weapon on their long range ballistic missiles.
However, as North Korea’s ICBM tests have seemed to confirm time and time again, the nation is still apparently lacking a reentry vehicle that could survive the immense heat and friction generated as it descends through the atmosphere and toward its target. Despite this shortcoming, all the other elements seem to be in place for North Korea to develop the capability of a nuclear strike against America’s mainland.
North Korea has mandated that progress be made, in their dialogue with the United States, by the end of 2019. But this seems unlikely for the following reasons: Firstly, President Trump now faces impeachment proceedings at home. Secondly, he is also embroiled in an increasingly complicated relationship with the leaders of NATO countries. Thirdly, he has to contempalte the possibility of a significant expansion of American troops in the Middle East with an eye toward Iran. And finally, he’s currently in the midst of trade wars with a number of nations.
If progress in the dialogue is indeed not made, a new North Korean ballistic missile test could be seen as a political setback for Trump just as the 2020 election season commences. It would also reignite the possibility of a war with North Korea.
In that regard, North Korea may not be all that far off in its assertion that Trump would prefer that it keeps quiet for a few more months. North Korean officials are as aware of the American news cycle as Americans are; and they seem to see an opportunity in Trump’s current situation. The embattled president could use a political win, and North Korea is theoretically in the position to give him one — though historical precedent indicates that Kim Jong Un’s demands may fall short of reasonable.