Should the American media ever stop its incessant lambasting of President Trump and come up for air, they might take a moment to report on some very troubling global entanglements that the new administration must navigate. One such situation is the ever-tenuous relationship between North Korea and the rest of the world. Recently, North Korea has garnered global attention. On February 12, 2017, North Korea successfully tested an intermediate-range missile, the Pukguksong-2. On the morning of February 13th, Kim Jong-nam, half-brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un was murdered at the Kuala Lumpur Airport in Malaysia. The rogue nation of North Korea has often made international waves through posturing and sabre-rattling. What makes this different and why should our readers care?
The testing of the Pukgukson-2 missile is in direct violation of UN resolutions and sanctions against North Korea, specifically in regards to the launching of ballistic missiles. The Pukgukson-2 is capable of carrying nuclear munitions and, according to North Korean state media, is capable of traveling from 3,000 to 5,000 kilometers. If these claims are accurate, the missile could reach Japan, South Korea, and any country within Southeast Asia. At the maximum range of 5,000 kilometers, the missile could strike portions of the Alaskan archipelago.
Japan sees the missile test as a provocation of both their nation and the surrounding region. The missile splashed down in the Sea of Japan, and the test occurred during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to President Trump. CNN reported that China, of course, blames North Korea’s recent provocations on the United States and South Korea, suggesting that the tensions between those countries and North Korea are the reason for the nuclear missile issue. China is North Korea’s strongest ally, and this connection has helped North Korea survive multiple UN economic sanctions.
Kim Jong-Nam is North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s older half brother. Once the favored son of Kim Jong-Il, Kim Jong-nam was exiled after attempting to enter Japan in 2001 according to the BBC, using a forged passport. Mr. Kim told Japanese officials he was trying to go to Disneyland. Kim Jong-nam has been a critic of the North Korean regime ever since. Living in Macau, China, and Singapore, Kim Jong-nam has claimed his brother lacks leadership qualities and that the regime should open up to the rest of the world.
This would also not be the first time that North Korean leadership has killed its detractors. As ABC News and others have reported, Kim Jong-un has executed numerous officials and opponents within his regime. In 2013 Jan Song-thaek, Kim Jong-un’s uncle, was arrested and executed for attempting to overthrow the government. A singer rumored to be Kim Jong-un’s ex-girlfriend, Hyon Song-wol, was executed in that same year with other members of the Unhasu Orchestra on pornography charges. It is believed that that Ri Sol-ju, Kim’s wife, requested the execution as a result of her jealousy for the woman. Mr. Kim had previously been the target of North Korean assassination plots, and it would appear that Pyongyang has finally succeeded in eliminating one of its more vocal detractors.
The timing of these two events begs the question: is this the sabre-rattling North Korea is known for or is this something more? As isolated as North Korea is, could it be possible that the Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un is making a show of strength, quelling possible grumblings about his leadership potential? That potential was questioned not only by his late brother but by former generals and advisors as well (all now dead).
How should the US respond to this posturing, and how will it affect our relationship with Asian nations? President Trump has expressed his “100% support” for Japan, but how will that support demonstrate itself in regards to Korea? How will North Korea’s rebuke of UN sanctions and resolutions affect our relationship with China, who blames both South Korea and the United States for North Korea’s actions?
This tangled web of diplomatic and strategic decision-making is what President Trump must be prepared to navigate. However, with the onslaught of media ire and partisan opposition from Democrats will he even get the chance, or will his attention be stuck on fending off a growing “resistance” from the left?