Donald Trump’s presidency may be the demise of North Korea. Or, on the contrary, Trump may unintentionally turn the nuclear-powered country into a nuclear time bomb. Donald Trump’s contradictory views on North Korea and its nuclear capabilities make it impossible to predict the future of relations between the U.S. and North Korea.
During his election campaign, Trump suggested that he wouldn’t mind negotiating with North Korean leadership on its nuclear weapons and missile program. The U.S. President-elect has also pledged to reduce America’s military presence in Northeast Asia.
But these plans are at odds with Trump’s other statements. Trump has previously described North Korean leader Kim Jung-un as a “madman” he would like to “disappear.” While it’s unclear how Trump is going to be negotiating with the North Korean leader, the issue will definitely become of high priority when Trump is sworn in as President of the United States on January 20.
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North Korea’s threat to Donald Trump
But here’s a problem with Trump’s inauguration in January. According to military officials, North Korea announced that it will be testing its intermediate-range ballistic missile in January, reported CNBC. While it’s said to be a direct response to Trump’s presidency, it’ll also serve as a warning to both the U.S. and South Korea that Pyongyang won’t halt development on its nuclear program.
North Korea has stepped up its nuclear and missile development program in recent years. This year alone, Pyongyang has carried out two nuclear tests and multiple missile tests. Outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama’s efforts to bring Kim Jung-un to his senses by imposing sanctions hasn’t had any effect, other than provoking North Korea to further boost its nuclear program developments.
So Trump inherits rocky relations with North Korea and an ongoing game of brinkmanship with the nuclear pariah state. Pyongyang is hell-bent on keeping its nuclear arsenal and further developing new nuclear warheads and missiles. North Korea has long voiced its concerns that its nuclear program is its only security guarantee against Washington attempting to overthrow its current regime.
Iran and North Korea military alliance is back?
While details about North Korea’s January nuclear tests remain unclear, this past summer, the nuclear power conducted successful tests of its revolutionary intermediate-range Musudan ballistic missile. The Musudan, a.k.a., BM-35 missile, has an estimated range of 3,500 km (nearly 2,000 miles), which means Pyongyang can easily reach the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, which holds key strategic assets of American forces.
According to CNBC, there will be a small group of Iranian observers during North Korea’s nuclear test in January, the month Trump enters the White House. Trump has previously suggested he would undo the Iran nuclear deal brokered by Obama and his allies last year. Doing so would create major problems for Iran, as nations would bring back their crippling sanctions against Tehran.
The Iran nuclear deal halted Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting crippling sanctions. Although Iran has violated the deal at least two times already, the ex-isolated country appears to be enjoying how its economy is slowly recovering. But while Iran’s economy is coughing up the consequences of sanctions while slowly recovering, Tehran is uncertain about the future of the nuclear deal signed with the U.S. now that Trump will be the next President.
So by observing North Korea’s nuclear tests in January, Iran sends a clear message to Trump. Dismantling the Iran nuclear deal could bring deadly consequences, as it would free the nuclear state to act on its ambitions.
Iran is no stranger to North Korea. In fact, the two countries enjoyed tight military ties two decades ago. And while the two countries kept their military ties to the minimum recently, the possibility that they’re secretly co-developing ballistic missiles and exchanging nuclear technologies shouldn’t be ruled out.
North Korea may be making nuclear weapons to reach the U.S.
Iran and North Korea’s alliance could become a major global threat. Iran lacks missile technology and assistance with its nuclear program, both of which isolated, cash-deprived North Korea can offer in exchange for money.
But are Trump and his future administration paying enough attention? Not so much. When a ballistic missile test of an extended-range missile was held just days before the third and final U.S. presidential debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton last month, there was no mention about it during the debate. Neither Trump nor Clinton thought North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile tests under America’s nose are a pressing national security issue.
And while the U.S. is not paying much attention, North Korea is getting closer to developing a long-range ballistic missile technology that could potentially reach the U.S. In August, North Korea sent shivers through U.S. generals’ spines when it tested a submarine-launched missile for the first time. It remains a mystery whether North Korea already has the technology for its infamous ICBM known as the KN-08. If it does, then that’s what Pyongyang will most likely be testing in January. An ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) is a guided ballistic missile with a minimum range of 5,500 km (3,400 miles).
What happens if Trump withdraws U.S. troops from Asia?
If Trump is indeed planning to sit with Kim Jung-un at one table to negotiate a rapprochement deal, there is only one way North Korea would accept it. Pyongyang has long demanded that Washington remove or at least reduce its military presence in both South Korea and Japan. Trump suggested that he would be willing to do that if both countries don’t pay more to maintain U.S. troops on their territory.
Trump appears to be a fan of an isolationist foreign policy, which would ultimately allow Washington to devote more of its resources and attention to re-building the country from within. In other words, it seems Trump has little to zero interest about what happens to U.S. allies, whether it’s South Korea, Japan or NATO.
As noted by John Burton, former Korea correspondent for the Financial Times, the U.S. President-elect’s message to both Seoul and Tokyo is this: don’t rely on America for protection against North Korea. Instead, obtain your own nuclear weapons. However, if the U.S. removes its troops from the region, it could bring a few negative outcomes.
First, the risk of North Korea attacking its traditional enemy, South Korea, would skyrocket. Second, it would allow China to step up its power and influence in Asia. And third, the U.S. economy would end up suffering from the shuttered influence and trade ties in the region. And that seems to contradict Trump’s pledges to “make America great again.”