Why Did Kim Jong Un Decide To Back Down In His Standoff With Trump?
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has taken his finger off the trigger in a nuclear showdown with President Donald Trump, de-escalating a tense situation.
After a week of hurling threats and warnings back and forth across the Pacific, Kim decided Tuesday to put on hold plans for a provocative missile test that could potentially trigger a nuclear war, one that Secretary of Defense James Mattis previously warned we “fundamentally do not want.” (RELATED: Kim Jong Un Backs Down In Nuclear Showdown With Trump)
Trump said Wednesday that Kim made a “very wise” decision, tweeting that the alternative would have been “catastrophic.” The president warned last week that North Korea’s threats would be met with “fire and fury” like nothing the world has seen before.
Kim Jong Un of North Korea made a very wise and well reasoned decision. The alternative would have been both catastrophic and unacceptable!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 16, 2017
Kim’s decision to de-escalate is about more than a fear of being turned into a smoldering crater north of the 38th Parallel; instead, it was a “a product of textbook brinkmanship,” according to the Wall Street Journal. “They try to create a situation where North Korea and the U.S. are at the brink of war and if you want to save the whole world, then you have to return to negotiations,” Yang Xiyu, a former Chinese diplomat, told WSJ reporters.
He noted that Pyongyang’s retreat came much faster than expected.
Tensions reached a fever pitch two years ago between North and South Korea. After a land mine maimed two South Korean soldiers, South Korea began broadcasting anti-North Korea propaganda over loudspeakers. Pyongyang issued an ultimatum: turn off the loudspeakers or pay the price.
When the deadline passed, North Korea backed down.
North Korea did the same after it issued a threat against Seoul in March last year, but North Korea did not follow through. Last week, North Korea threatened to launch a salvo of ballistic missiles into waters off Guam, but as tensions rose in the wake of North Korea’s threat, North Korea’s supreme leader stepped back.
There is the possibility that North Korea never intended to launch missiles towards Guam, but there is strong evidence that North Korean military officials did draft a strategic plan for an operational strike on the island. (RELATED: ‘Map Of Death’: North Korea Has A Detailed Plan To Incinerate Guam)
At the same time, North Korea’s Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile, which North Korea planned to use for strikes, is still in development and is unlikely ready for immediate use.
North Korea warned that it can change its mind at anytime if the U.S. continues its hostile policy towards the rogue regime, indicating that the threat remains even if war is no longer an imminent possibility.
Pyongyang faced tough rhetoric from Trump, language not heard from the previous administration. North Korea also saw the Chinese upholding the latest U.N. sanctions, potentially triggering concerns in the North that China might consider unilateral sanctions, restricting essential supplies. A Chinese state-run media outlet explained recently that if North Korea initiates a conflict with the U.S. and its allies, China will not come to its aid. Some observers suspect Beijing sent back-channel messages to Pyongyang pressuring them not to fire missiles at Guam.
A collection of factors appear to have persuaded North Korea to take a step back and lower its sword. Tensions are, however, likely to flare again when the U.S. and South Korea conduct joint military exercises next week.
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