The hermit kingdom of North Korea, led by its bully leader Kim Jong Un, has once again made it to the global headlines, but this time in a much more aggressive way than in recent times, or at least during the Obama administration. This is precisely what the histrionic and theatrical leader wants it to be, and the Trump administration is seemingly following his script.
Yet, North Korea does not possess significant natural resources or any other commodity to underscore any particular geopolitical relevance, aside from its nuclear ambitions. Even for its longstanding ally, China, North Korea would not be of much relevance were it not for one issue: a regime change, an intervention, or any humanitarian crisis might affect and spill over into China (as well as South Korea).
Feeling a momentum of strategic weakness, perhaps, Kim Jong Un has been looking for an opportunity to make himself present and portray an image of strength in the region. And unfortunately, Washington appears to be playing his game by labelling North Korea “a big problem”, “a world menace” and promising to deal with the threat very seriously – without fully appreciating that Kim Jong Un has always liked to bluff. North Korea does not, in fact, represent a significant threat to US national security.
According to Trump’s main foreign policy hints ever since he was running as a presidential candidate, the US seems likely to retreat from many global spots. In this sense, the White House and the EU must leave this issue in the hands of regional players, especially China, Russia and Australia which altogether have much more to fear than the US.
An Ever-present Threat
Although there is one critical issue that must be handled with special care and in a preemptive way, stressing the use of deterrence: North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. Its capacities, not wholly known, are North Korea’s most important strategic bargaining chip, having just recently launched tests of missiles as a way to provoke its Southern neighbour and other players in the region.
If this issue spirals out of control, then it will be a hugely destabilising force for the Asia-Pacific region. The White House could have the most important threat to its national security in recent times if it were to see important partners like Japan, South Korea and Australia, to name the closest ones, coming under direct threat coming from growing nuclear ambitions of Kim Jong Un. With Russia, though, a coherent deterrent policy against North Korea could be carried out, since it is an important supplier of energy to the hermit kingdom.
The Plate’s Already Full
Globally speaking, the US and the world at large have many other issues more concerning and more urgent to tackle and to deal with, like global terrorism, financial and economic turmoil, the retreat of globalisation, and many others – too much to have to deal with a bluffer like Kim Jong Un, who likes to toy with regional players every once in a while, playing them against each other in a dangerous game.
The ‘axis of evil’ coined by former President Bush appears insistent on coming back to the table of world affairs, especially under the eyes of the Trump administration. But this time, so far, Iraq is off the list, with only Iran and North Korea back in the game. It seems unlikely that North Korea really will be worth the worry.