After North Korea’s groundbreaking test of a missile purpose-built to hold US cities at risk of nuclear attack, President Donald Trump now has to face a brand new question in the decades-long standoff between the West and North Korea: What now?
Trump, in office a mere six months before North Korea’s test, never really had a chance to thwart Kim Jong Un’s push towards an intercontinental ballistic missile. US presidents since 1994 have tried and failed to achieve the same feat.
Trump could have pushed harder for diplomatic engagement, but that failed repeatedly. Trump could have leaned less on the military option, but there’s no evidence that his posturing caused any real damage. Trump could have worked more closely with China, but there’s no evidence the Chinese would have actually allowed North Korea to fail by withdrawing their trade.
“I think it’s very easy to criticise Trump for what he has not done, but if he had done those things, they probably still would not have changed the result,” Yun Sun, a senior associate at the Stimson Center, told Business Insider.
According to Sun, when Trump took office in January, Kim Jong Un was only a few months away from the missile his regime has desired so badly, and it was never likely the regime would negotiate away its ability to test weapons.
“They were already so close to it, why would they give up? Why would they negotiate away the most important security guarantee promise they can get?” asked Sun, referring to North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, which they consider a hugely important safeguard against an invasion from the US or other nations.
Unlike past presidents who have tried and failed to stop North Korea from advancing their nuclear and ballistic missile programs, Trump finds himself faced with a brand-new question: Where do we go from here?
“We need to reassess what we’re trying to achieve here,” said Sun of the future of diplomatic relations with North Korea.
According to Sun, now is not the time to hand over diplomatic concessions to North Korea after a provocative, illegal missile test. Such a move would amount to blackmail, and show the world that the US will cave to nuclear threats.
“How can we reward ICBM tests with engagement?” said Sun.
Kim Jong Un’s major success in building an ICBM puts the US in a hard position where the US under Trump may have to abandon goal of a denuclearized North Korea.
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