According to reports, both the U.S. military and the nation’s intelligence apparatus are preparing for North Korea’s Kim Jong-un to launch some sort of a weapons test — likely a nuclear capable ICBM — later this week. The assumption is based on repeated threats from North Korea that the nation would be sending the United States a “Christmas present” if notable progress wasn’t made in talks between U.S. and North Korean officials. The talks, thus far, have been characterized by the seemingly disparate aims of denuclearizing the nation and removing stifling economic sanctions.
Despite increasingly brazen rhetoric out of North Korea in recent months, there have been no clear signs of engagement between Kim and Trump, with North Korea conducting weapons tests that, while not in violation of any existing agreements, seem to be meant as a prodding message to Trump’s administration.
With ongoing trade negotiations with China, efforts to curb Iran’s aggressive behavior, negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan and President Trump’s focus on impeachment proceedings at home, one could argue that Trump is currently facing too many serious issues to effectively manage them all. This situation is exacerbated by the number of notable Pentagon departures that have added to the long list of empty leadership roles within America’s defense apparatus.
However, one could also contend that the Trump administration is aware that Kim’s demands are unreasonable and that at this point notable progress won’t be made even with direct engagement with North Korea. If that’s the case, an attempt at discourse that fails to prevent an ICBM test could be seen as a diplomatic failure for an administration that has been accused in the past of employing a schizophrenic foreign policy. If both engaging and not engaging will ultimately end in failure, not engaging would seem like the prudent political move amid other pressing issues that may benefit more from the administration’s direct attention.
According to reports, unnamed military officials have stated, off the record, that there are no plans to attempt to destroy a North Korean ICBM on the launch pad or to intercept a launch if it doesn’t appear to pose a threat to American or allied interests. While unconfirmed, these reports seem logical, as a launch that isn’t aimed at a populated land mass can truly be seen as little more than an aggressive bit of posturing — not worthy of military intervention under the current status quo.
Instead, it seems likely that a launch would be met with further economic sanctions — a method that, while lacking in theatrics, has seemed to have a dramatic affect on the standard of living of North Korea’s military, as not only the number of defectors attempting to cross into South Korea and other neighboring nations has increased significantly over the past two years, but so has the brazenness of the defections.
Trump and Kim have met three times to discuss North Korea’s denuclearization: twice formally and once informally. All three occasions have yielded little in the way of progress, but were successful in getting Kim to halt ICBM testing — at least until now.