President Donald Trump significantly ratcheted up his rhetoric toward North Korea in the wake of news that the rogue nation has successfully miniaturized a nuclear warhead to fit into an intercontinental ballistic missile.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump said, arms crossed, from his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Tuesday. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
That seems, um, unlikely to defuse – at all – what appears to be a rapidly escalating situation. In the wake of Saturday’s unanimous UN Security Council vote to strengthen sanctions against North Korea, the country issued a statement accusing the US of “trying to drive the situation of the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war.”
The North Korean foreign minister also said Monday that the country is totally unwilling to “put the nukes and ballistic rockets on the negotiating table.”
Those words – from Trump and North Korea – coupled with the assessment that North Korea had taken a significant step to weaponizing its nuclear capability – accelerates the game of diplomatic chicken the two countries have been playing for the last several years.
“I would speak to him,” Trump said of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in May. “I would have no problem speaking to him.”
That stance was pilloried by many experts in the foreign policy world as deeply naive. Since then, however, he had significantly ramped up his rhetoric against Kim. He also has hardened his stance against China and that country’s need to exert its influence over North Korea – a view that came after Trump spent the first few months of his tenure in the White House playing a sort of “good cop” role in terms of China and North Korea.
It’s unclear what, specifically, Trump was referring to with his “fire and fury” comments. Military intervention in North Korea is seen as an extremely risky move vis-à-vis China. But, “fire and fury” doesn’t exactly evoke a policy of waiting-and-seeing to see if the tightened sanctions work.
Given the realities on the ground and the limited options to “solve” the problem, the question is whether – and how – Trump chooses to back up his tough talk.
The world will be watching. Literally.