..."Nuclear brinkmanship"

...(continued from index page)

China, North Korea’s principal (and perhaps only) ally, signed on to the new round of economic sanctions levied on Pyongyang by the United Nations Security Council. It also put out the word that, if North Korea made the mistake of striking the United States first, Beijing would stay neutral—essentially, a declaration of a future withdrawal of support.

Taking a deliberate, calibrated approach markedly different from Trump’s “tweetstorms,” two of his most senior Cabinet members published a joint op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. While holding Kim to account, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis gave public assurances that Washington was not interested in ousting him.

On August 15, the Korean Central News Agency ran an unusual story. Pyongyang published an account of the visit its supreme leader paid to the “Command of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army,” only days after the North Korean military was said to be “seriously examining the plan for an enveloping strike at Guam.”

In his August 14 visit, Kim listened to a presentation of the plan—and then did not approve it. The KCNA story reported: [Kim] “said that the US imperialists caught the noose around their necks due to their reckless military confrontation racket, adding that he would watch a little more the foolish and stupid conduct of the Yankees spending a hard time of every minute of their miserable lot.”

This intention to “watch a little more” may well be a signal of de-escalation. As the analyst Ankit Panda noted, the KCNA story also included the phrase “to defuse the tensions and prevent the dangerous (sic) military conflict on the Korean peninsula”—which can be taken to mean a readiness to open the door to new negotiations. As it is, Pyongyang has already achieved a milestone; its status as a nuclear-armed power has gone beyond the point where it can be questioned.

Astonishingly, the greater uncertainty involves Trump. As the investigative noose tightens around his family and his inner circle, for alleged collusion with the Russian government and, now, for a possible criminal conspiracy, the temptation to distract attention or display raw power may prove too strong for an undisciplined man to resist. He may yet decide to run to the brink again, to get away from it all.



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