North Korea May be Mistaken in Thinking Novice Trump Will Let it Off the Hook

A commentary by Andrei Lankov
trump-obama-11152016.jpg U.S. President Barack Obama meets President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, Nov. 10, 2016.

So, it has happened: Contrary to nearly all polls and predictions, Donald Trump, the Republican Party candidate, was elected the 45th President of the United States On Nov. 8.

It was a sudden turn of events: Trump had faced not only intellectuals and minorities, as well as a significant part of the urban public opposing his candidacy, but also the highly critical attitude of the media. However, Trump was elected, receiving overwhelming support from farmers and other rural people and the ”angry white voters,” and it is now a good time to think what his presidency would mean for the world.

North Korean leaders tend to support Trump and are perhaps rejoiced with the news of his sudden victory. At least, the North Korean media treated him more favorably than Hillary Clinton. From the viewpoint of North Korea, Donald Trump is a good choice since he could be the president who might even consider the withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea, and at any rate, being an isolationist, he is likely to be less willing to engage with Seoul and Tokyo.

But it is likely that the North Korean decision makers will soon discover that their hopes have little, if any, foundation. They are happy about Donald Trump’s isolationist tendencies, but these tendencies are probably not that relevant from their point of view. Had North Korea been a small country which does not matter to the U.S., Donald Trump’s pronounced unwillingness to get involved with other peoples’ problems would probably help Pyongyang. However, North Korea is a country which is not only developing nuclear weapons and delivery systems, but also frequently making highly bellicose statements, specifically targeting the U.S., and is working hard to design long-range missiles, capable of striking U.S. territory.

In fact, in the modern world there are only two countries, China and Russia, which are capable of carrying out a nuclear attack against the U.S.. Other nuclear states either have no missiles capable of reaching the U.S. or are long-term American allies. North Korea is determined to become the third such country, and this is why the Trump Administration will not be able to ignore it.

Of course, President Trump at the beginning of his term, as he said during the campaign, is likely to initiate a new round of negotiations with North Korea. There is a problem, though: No matter who is in charge in Washington, the U.S. government can currently accept only one solution to the ”North Korean nuclear issue” – that is, the complete denuclearization of the country. However, the only solution which is good for the Americans is unacceptable to the North Koreans, who are determined to remain nuclear no matter what.

So, there is virtually no space for a compromise, and this is what Donald Trump and his negotiators will learn pretty soon. Once this becomes clear, it is likely that the Trump Administration will switch to a hard line–very hard, indeed. Trump and the majority of his Republican supporters belong to a foreign policy tradition which presumes that any grave challenge to the United States should be met with great toughness and, if necessary, application of force. No doubt, attempts to create long-range missile whose only conceivable target is the U.S., do qualify as a grave challenge.

Therefore, even though the Trump Administration is likely to first try to negotiate with Pyongyang, these talks are likely to end in failure, and will be followed by a really tough set of sanctions. If North Korea continues to develop and test long-range missiles, submarine-based missiles and nuclear weapons, one cannot even rule out the possibility of a U.S. preemptive precision strike against North Korea’s nuclear and missile research and production facilities.

The policies of the Trump Administration toward China and Russia can influence North Korea's position in the international community. Donald Trump has already criticized China many times while was quite friendly to Russia. Therefore, under his watch, the United States might move close to Russia, but relations between the U.S. and China are likely to be strained. If such a situation arises, North Korea may find itself in a much more difficult economic situation.

North Korean leaders should not congratulate themselves over the outcome of Nov. 8: Donald Trump as president is likely to strengthen, not weaken, the outside pressure Pyongyang now deals with.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.