It is not so much that Kim Jong-un and his North Korean regime stand at the precipice of deploying their nuclear weapons that cause heightened anxiety among people all over the world, but the fact that the US has the brain of a toddler in the highest political office. Donald Trump’s rash impulsiveness had catapulted him into political office, as his supporters were thinking that he would finally deliver on political changes that the spin-doctored rival candidates would not even dare to think about.
But in foreign policy such rash impulsiveness could be enormously dangerous, as when Trump responded to the nuclear test in North Korea by promising “fire and fury” to rain down on the paranoid regime in Pyongyang. This was in response to Kim’s announcement to want to strike US territory at Guam, where the US has a military base.
Luckily the conflict could be contained, primarily thanks to China’s intervention. China being the only reliable ally left for North Korea has declared that if North Korea were to strike the US first, and the US retaliated, China would not intervene to help North Korea as it did during the hot phase of the Korean War in the 1950s. Only if the US struck first would China respond with intervention. In that case, World War III would rain down on us and we could be wiped off the face of the earth.
Kim, as crazy as he might appear, could read the signs and called off the threats of confrontation. The reason why North Korea had now dissipated from the headlines is because we have had a new string of terrorist attacks in Europe, then the racist attacker in Charlottesville, Virginia, and all of a sudden our news focus shifted to Trump supporting white supremacists, a concerning yet unsurprising trend by itself.
But where are we really going with North Korea? Is there a possibility that we could get into another war with this country? Trump recently rolled out his Afghanistan strategy, which is basically an increase in US troop size, thus tying the country further down in the Middle Eastern morass. There is no political stability in Afghanistan whatsoever, as the Islamic State and various Taliban groups continue to control large parts of the country, thus nullifying any efforts of so-called “liberation” by the US since 2001. Afghanistan could mean that attention is diverted from North Korea.
But given the mental instability of Kim as well as Trump, as exemplified by their duel of words, we might be back onto war path, which is rather concerning to say the least. For Collins (2017) the solution lies in integrating North Korea into the western consumption model, which would require western investments in the country as well as flooding it with cheap mass consumer goods. Some people would say that capitalism requires wars, but the opposite is just as true, namely that greater economic integration makes wars much less palatable, for businesspeople relying on commerce need peace. The mass consumer goods could dilute the heightened tension by transforming the politically brainwashed masses (Kim family over all!) into economically brainwashed masses (the I-Phone 8 will finally make me happy!). The continued political and economic isolation of North Korea, however, create the Stockholm syndrome, whereby the masses get whipped up by the leader, who promises strength and unity against the foreign hostility.
China is by no means a politically liberal regime, but the economic opening has resulted in a rise in overall living standards as well as an overarching lack of appetite for warfare. Among a certain segment of the Chinese population there is a great desire to learn English and study in the US or another western university. For these individuals, a military conflict with the US is undesired. But given that there are barely any North Koreans living abroad (if we count out the defectors that live in South Korea or China), there is no such emotional barrier to supporting a war-hungry leader to fight the US.
In any case, this economic integration strategy of North Korea would probably take some time to realize, but the very short term requires a return to the negotiating table, and that would require some minimal trust among the top leaders in the US and North Korea. One would wonder how different the world would be if there would be more capable people running foreign relations in both countries. We all remember the photo where Mao Zedong and Richard Nixon encountered each other to begin bilateral relations between China and the US, but the real impetus behind the Sino-US relations was the work of Henry Kissinger and Zhou Enlai. We need such capable people in the current period.
Left: Premier Zhou Enlai with National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger. Right: Chairman Mao Zedong encounters President Richard Nixon.