North Korea almost certainly felt the geopolitical impact of President Donald Trump’s strike on Syria Thursday.
In response to a brutal chemical weapons attack, the Trump administration is calling for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. military carried out a missile strike Thursday evening on a Syrian airbase housing the aircraft that dropped the chemical weapons on innocent civilians in violation of international restrictions.
“Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically,” Trump stated Thursday evening, suggesting that a new approach is needed.
The missile strike on Syria demonstrates “President Trump is willing to act when governments and actors cross the line,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson explained. “It is clear that President Trump made that statement to the world tonight.”
The administration’s rhetoric on Assad and Syria echo its comments on Kim Jong-un and the North Korean threat.
“The diplomatic and other efforts of the past 20 years to bring North Korea to a point of de-nuclearization have failed,” the secretary of state said on his first official trip to Asia last month, adding, “In the face of this ever escalating threat, it is clear that a different approach is required.”
Since Trump took office, North Korea has launched at least seven missiles, tested multiple high-thrust rocket engines for a possible intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), and made preparations for what could be a sixth nuclear test. The North’s actions are provocative moves in clear violation of international bans.
North Korea’s aggressive provocations have been much more frequent since Kim Jong-un took power. Under his leadership, the threat to the U.S. and its allies has increased.
A major concern for the U.S. is the North is developing an ICBM capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to targets in the continental U.S. “We have reached the final stage of preparations to test-launch an intercontinental ballistic missile,” Kim Jong-un said in his New Year’s address, adding, “Research and development of cutting edge arms equipment is actively progressing.”
“North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!” Trump tweeted in response, drawing a line in the sand.
If Trump does, in fact, plan to live up to Tillerson’s comment on what happens to countries that cross the president’s lines, Kim Jong-un may want to choose which lines he crosses a little more carefully. Whether the North will heed the president’s warning remains to be seen.
The administration’s latest act also sends a message to China, the president of which is presently in Mar-a-Lago for negotiations with Trump on a wide range of issues, with North Korea near the top of the list. The sudden strike on Syria offers insight into the president’s earlier comments hinting at unilateral action on North Korea if China refuses to cooperate and rein in its neighbor.
“China has great influence over North Korea,” the president told the Financial Times Sunday. “China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t. If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.”
Trump has said many times that “all options are on the table,” and he promised Wednesday to use the “full range of U.S. military capabilities” to defend the U.S. and its allies against the threat posed by North Korea. What that entails is still unclear, but that message is being received in Pyongyang.
“We have the readiness and ability to counter any challenge from the U.S.,” Kim Hyong-jun, the North Korean ambassador to Moscow, stated Thursday, “We are ready to deliver the most ruthless blow” in the event of a major U.S. provocation.
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