By Emma Emeozor
The war of words between North Korea and the United States reached boiling point last week, with Pyongyang vowing to strike the island of Guam with missiles, possibly this week in response to Washington’s continued aggression. The international community was immediately gripped with fear, as the two leaders involved in the face-off are unpredictable. Watchers of the unfolding belligerence are concerned about the consequences of war between the two old foes.
United States President Donald Trump fired the first salvo when, last Tuesday, he threatened to unleash “fire and fury,” if Pyongyang continues threatening the US. “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” he said. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen … he has been very threatening beyond a normal state. They will be met with fury, fury, and, frankly, power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
Trump threw diplomacy to the winds by talking too loud. Indeed, his ranting was a diplomatic fiasco as President Kim Jong-Un and his kitchen cabinet became further ‘empowered’ to mock and threaten Americans the way they have never done before. Pyongyang responded late Wednesday scorning America’s First Citizen. It described Trump’s threat as a “load of nonsense,” stressing that “only absolute force” would work on someone so “bereft of reason.”
North Korea warned that it would “turn the US mainland into the theatre of a nuclear war” and that any strike by the US on missile and nuclear targets would be “mercilessly repelled.”
Though tension between the two countries remains high, there is the option of dialogue, which is being canvassed by allies of both countries, including international experts. This is not the first time there would be a fierce standoff between the two countries since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
President Kim Jung-Un’s grandfather, the first leader of the country, President Kin II-Sung, had frustrated US plans to bring the country to its knees with similar tactics. The president’s father and immediate past president of the country, Kim Jong-Il, did the same. The bellicose relationship between the two countries has become a recurrent decimal.
Washington remains opposed to Pyongyang’s missile programme
Washington has been opposed to North Korea developing nuclear weapons, a position that Pyongyang has decried, insisting that no power could stop its nuclear programme. US media quoted experts as saying that, if North Korea continues to develop its nuclear missile technology, Trump could be given just 10 minutes to decide whether he should launch a retaliatory strike. Trump’s outburst came on the heels of recent United Nations sanctions on North Korea.
Trump has blamed his predecessors for giving North Korea the latitude to embark on a nuclear technology programme. He believes past administrations had not done enough to call Pyongyang to order. For him, now is the time for a President to “stick up for the country.”
North Korea’s choice of Guam as the theatre of war between it and the US rattled Americans and allies of both countries. The threat once again brought Guam, an American territory of about 163,000 people, to the fore of international commentary. It was clearly a masterstroke to force the Trump administration to have a rethink. But would Trump have a rethink and consider dialogue as the best approach? This would depend on the report of the security council that was mandated to deliberate on the situation and advise the President accordingly.
Meanwhile, Trump believes that his threat was not tough enough. Against the background of the reactions that followed his “fire and fury” warning, he told reporters at his golf club in New Jersey on Thursday that his threat may not have gone far enough. “Maybe it wasn’t tough enough,” he said.
Importance of Guam to the US
North Korea knows that Guam is of strategic military importance to the US and, therefore, it has been using threats to the island as a shield to check America’s “aggression” since 2013. For Pyongyang, Guam could be likened to the testicles of Washington.
The tiny island, which is not a state in the US, was ceded to America after the Spanish-American War in 1898. But it first came to limelight during the Second World War In what became known as the first battle of Guam, the territory was captured from the US by Japan in 1941 and in the second battle of Guam, the US recaptured it in 1944.
It has since become a strategic US military base. It hosts two “significant” US military bases with no fewer than 5,000 US troops stationed there. Besides the US military bases in Japan and South Korea, it is the closest to North Korea. With its attractive beaches, the island has become home to American and European tourists who flock there daily.
A defiant Pyongyang did not hesitate to convince the world that its threat wasn’t a diplomatic ruse to just rattle Washington when it described how the strike on Guam would be carried out. Western news agencies have quoted KCNA as saying that the country now has the ability to send a large-size heavy nuclear warhead across the Pacific following testing of a Hwasong-12 missile. The Hwasong-12 was fired on Sunday night before Trump’s reaction. According to reports, it soared 489 miles and reached a height of 1,312 miles. It was deliberately fired at the highest angle to avoid affecting neighbouring countries’ security. Experts, however, said “had it been launched at a standard trajectory, it would have reached at least 2,500 miles, almost half the distance required to reach the US mainland. Therefore, any missile attack on the island would not only be devastating but would be tantamount to an attack on the US and its allies. Already, Japan and South Korea have warned that they will not fold their arms in the event of Pyongyang actualising its threat. .
Pyongyang’s April warning
It was obvious in April that the two countries were heading for a fierce collision after Washington deployed an aircraft carrier strike group toward the Korean peninsula, apparently as part of its deterrence action to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear programme. The USS Carl Vinson was deployed along with a missile carrier and two destroyers.
North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) quoted the foreign ministry as saying that the action showed America’s “reckless moves for invading” had “reached a serious phase.” The statement said: “We will hold the US wholly accountable for the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by its outrageous actions.” It warned that “The DPRK is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the US.”
China’s mediating role
China, a strong ally of North Korea, continues to play a mediating role between Pyongyang and Washington. In April, it admitted that the region was facing a “precarious situation,” pointing out that “one has the feeling that a conflict would break out at any moment.” And now is the moment.
Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, who spoke with reporters in Beijing last week, urged the US and North Korea “to step back from the brink of a potentially catastrophic conflict.”
“We call on all parties to refrain from provoking and threatening each other, whether in words or actions, and not to let the situation get to an irreversible and unmanageable stage,” Wang said.
China is mindful of the fact that “If war occurs, the result is a situation in which everybody loses and there can be no winner. It is not the one who espouses harsher rhetoric or raises a bigger fist that will win.”
China has aptly put the implications of a war between the US and North Korea in perspective. It is a warning that cannot be ignored. However, China and the other allies of both countries need the support of others, particularly the United Nations, to bring the situation under control.
Trump administration divided
A major problem facing the US is the divisions that appear in the Trump administration whenever an important policy matter comes up for consideration. This character of the Trump administration is a big minus for America. Seemingly, the President is to blame for this situation as he never makes adequate consultation before making public statements on policy matters. For example, he caught his team off-guard in his threat to North Korea.
US Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson tried to douse tension by diplomatically coming to the rescue of Trump following the dismay Americans expressed over his use of words they considered provocative and foul. But while Tillerson stressed diplomacy and reassured Americans that they could sleep well, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis warned that North Korea risked “the end of its regime and destruction of its people,” if it did not “stand down,” US media reported.
Meanwhile, the governor of Guam, Eddie Calvo, has said North Korea’s threat is no news to the people. “While the latest rhetoric causes concern, that’s as far as it goes,” he told CNN. He said “There is no panic in Guam, I’m not trying to overlook it or understate it. We understand the threats, but we also don’t want to panic anybody, and we don’t want to jump to conclusions based on rhetoric.”
Reports say that Guam is still bubbling with tourists.
Notable US lawmakers have continued to condemn Trump’s use of words. US media said Trump faced criticism from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers. Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain said, “I took exception to the President’s comments because you’ve got to be sure that you can do what you say you’re going to do.”