This week the United States is conducting military exercises with South Korea and seven other ally nations including Australia and New Zealand. Though annual and mostly computer simulated, the exercises come at a time of uncertainty and brinksmanship between nuclear capable countries. Military experts from around the globe are warning that rhetoric and signs of military strength on both sides needs to be tapered to avert military disaster.
As the ten day exercises kicked off on Monday, August 21st, North Korean President Kim Jong-un sent verbal missives warning of a “second Korean War” according to state controlled media outlet KCNA. “No matter how much the exercises are regularized through conversation, the danger of war can never be diminished. Should a second Korean War erupt, it will only lead to nuclear war.”
The world may have grown accustomed to North Korean President Kim Jong-un boasting of military capability and his country’s willingness to use it. New to the equation is the growing range of North Korean missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland and a U.S. president willing to engage in a caustic war of words with the North Korean dictator.
This spring was host to a back and forth one upmanship between Jong-un and Trump increasing the likelihood of a military confrontation between the two countries and their associated allies. In April, the North Korean leader stated that the U.S. should cease military cooperation with South Korea or face the threat of war. Trump responded by hosting the United Nations Security Council asking partner nations for increased sanctions on the dictatorship. Trump also mentioned that “There is a chance we could have a major, major conflict with North Korea.” Trump doubled down on his rhetoric this summer saying the time for “patience was over.”
That didn’t stop North Korea from further testing U.S. patience when it was widely reported that North Korea had achieved the ability to place compact nuclear weapons on an intercontinental missile. Trump continued the escalation saying, “North Korea best not make any more threats. They will be met with fire and the fury like the world has never seen.” Seemingly undeterred, Kim Jong-un threatened to send missiles to the U.S. territory of Guam, mocking Trump personally through state media.
Through the entire diplomatic back and forth with North Korea, Trump has used the media like no other president in history with results yet to be revealed. With Twitter as the most frequent tool in addition to press conferences and formal statements, Trump has worried U.S. foreign relations experts with how his off the cuff, 140 character at a time messages might be perceived.
From his July taunt, “North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life? Hard to believe that South Korea.....” to his scolding of China, “I am very disappointed in China. Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet... ...they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk. We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!” Trump tweets have worried many - from residents of Guam, to foreign relations experts who have spent their entire careers seeking positive diplomatic relations with North Korea.
Trump even tweeted prior to North Korea’s promised attack on Guam, “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!”
Jason Crow is an Army veteran having served in Iraq and Afghanistan, achieving the rank of Captain. Crow is running as a Democrat for the 6th Congressional District representing parts of Arapahoe, Aurora, and Douglas Counties. He is critical of U.S. Congress’ inability to temper dangerous remarks made by President Trump, “We have 28,000 troops on the Korean peninsula and even more within reach of North Korean weapons. Anytime you have nuclear arms powers, the risk goes up substantially with potentially catastrophic consequences.” Crow characterizes the President’s comments as “Reckless… made via a Tweet and without coordinating with our partners in the region and without consulting our military leadership.”
Crow is also critical of his opponent for the District 6 Congressional seat, incumbent Mike Coffman. “It is the role of Congress to serve as a check on rhetoric. With very few exceptions, I am generally very disappointed by the lack of Republican response including those of Mike Coffman whose responses have not been clear and not what you would expect to push back on Donald Trump’s rhetoric.” Crow called on Congressman Coffman to “…hold this president accountable for what and how he has said things.”
Perhaps Coffman’s most notable act was a vote in favor of House Bill 3364 known as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which restricts the exchange of equipment, fuel, goods and banking while North Korea pursues “…any program related to the development of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons, and their means of delivery, including ballistic missiles…”
When the legislation was passed, Congressman Coffman remarked, “Today, the House of Representatives sent a clear message that we will impose and maintain strong sanctions against the threats to our national security from Russia, Iran, and North Korea. Weakness only invites aggression and this bill is an important step in showing that the United States is committed to demonstrating strength against those who would wish to destroy us.”
Most recently Congressman Coffman said, “ North Korea is not only a threat to the United States, but a threat to regional stability. I believe the key to confronting the regime is getting China to exert all political and economic pressure as possible as they (China) is the regimes main trade partner. Congress will continue to work with the Administration and regional allies in hopes of deescalating the threat and find a long-term solution. Threats to our homeland and territories are not acceptable, much less from a nuclear and unstable regime like that of North Korea.”
A majority of U.S. residents agree with Crow that the United States should not engage in verbal sparring with North Korea according to a CBS poll conducted in mid-August. Overall, 59 percent opposed threats while 33 percent supported. A massive partisan divide exists on the issue with 63 percent of Republicans backing threats compared to only 11 percent of Democrats. Independents reflected the national average at 33 percent. The divide also exists when respondents were asked whether they were confident with Trump’s leadership regarding North Korea. 77 percent of Republicans were confident compared to only 6 percent of Democrats. On average, only 38 percent of respondents were confident of Trump’s leadership on North Korea.
According to Crow, “We remain in a dangerous environment internationally. We face threats from Iran, North Korea, Middle East, and internal threats. Now is the time for thoughtful deliberate leadership.”