Some Experts Fear Trump Rhetoric on North Korea Could Push Pyongyang over the Edge

North Korea’s foreign minister asserted Monday that a tweet from President Donald Trump amounted to a declaration of war, which the White House dismissed as absurd.

But some experts fear that Trump’s tweets about North Korea and dictator Kim Jong-un are shutting off the possibility of talks with North Korea and veering the U.S. closer to war.

“If there’s a war, it will flow from misperception & exaggeration from remarks like this. No one out here wants a war. Amazed POTUS won’t stop,” tweeted Robert E. Kelly, professor of political science at Pusan National University in Busan, South Korea.

John Delury, associate professor of Chinese studies at the Yonsei University Graduate School of International Studies, is also concerned that Trump might be going too far: “I do not agree with some experts who think the ‘door to dialogue’ just closed. Trump’s speech at the UN was a serious mistake, but I do not think irredeemable. Yet!”

“But things have been deteriorating since early February and continue to on pretty much a weekly basis. It is going to take a major course correction on the part of the Trump administration to get control of the situation,” he added.

Some of Trump’s senior aides are also reportedly worried about Trump’s attacks against Kim, who he has called, “Little Rocket Man” and “Rocket Man” on a “suicide mission,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Senior aides – including National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster – had warned the president for months not to personally attack Kim, the Times reported.

The concerns grew further on Monday when North Korea’s foreign minister said Trump’s last tweet was a declaration of war and threatened to shoot down U.S. bombers in self-defense.

However, there is another view among White House advisers and experts that Trump is being strong and clear in outlining the risks North Korea faces if it decides to attack.

The Heritage Foundation’s James Carafano disputed the idea that Trump’s rhetoric is bringing the two sides closer to war, and noted the North Koreans have issued threats for a long time.

“Think folks fixate too much on the rhetoric as if the North Koreans are reacting to us as opposed to doing what they always do,” said Carafano, the vice president of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy.

“They have used hyper-rhetoric even when U.S. administrations have been constrained,” he said.

He acknowledged that Trump’s tweets added an element of unpredictability but doubted that it changed anything for either side.

“The North Koreans are well versed in using the war of words instead of war not sure how they feel when US side engages them in their own game-but I don’t think the war of words changes the strategic calculus for either side,” he said.

“Frankly, if the media paid less attention probably neither government would showboat as much,” he added.

Editors at 38North.org, a preeminent source of analysis on North Korea, on Monday published a column titled, “Let’s All Take a Deep Breath.”

The column noted that despite the “drumbeat of harsh rhetoric,” Pyongyang radio and TV programming is normal, continuing to report mundane events such as tennis matches and acrobats at a Moscow circus festival.

There was also no alarm at the Pentagon on Monday either.

Asked about Pyongyang’s threat to shoot down U.S. bombers, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Rob Manning said, “We have the right to fly, sail or operate where legal and permissible around the globe.”

Despite the president’s rhetoric, the administration has shown no signs that it is backing away from its diplomatic strategy, which is to increase economic pressure on North Korea and its allies, to get Pyongyang to come to the negotiating table and give up its nuclear arms.

On Tuesday, Trump announced new sanctions on eight North Korean banks and 26 individuals. And Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford told senators during a hearing Tuesday that he has not seen any North Korean military activity reflective of the “charged political environment.”

“While the political space is clearly very charged right now, we haven’t seen a change in the posture of North Korean forces and we watch that very closely,” he said. “What we haven’t seen is military activity that would be reflective of the charged political environment.”


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