Who, What, Why: North Korea and Trump

By Joseph McCann | gargoyle@flagler.edu

My mother is a high school history teacher and always talked about the historical origins of the issues we have today. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, so I’ll be doing exactly that which my childhood-self detested.

We see North Korea portrayed in the media as an anti-American communist country with a tyrannical leader, which is pretty accurate. This shouldn’t be surprising or confusing to anybody who knows the history of the Korean peninsula, so let’s take a look at it.

North Korea was a colony of Japan from 1910 to 1945, and during the colonial period thousands were executed and incarcerated by the brutal Japanese government. Its main purpose was to supply Japan with food, but during WWII was also used to “recruit” soldiers. After the war, the Soviet Union and the U.S. decided that Korea would be split into two zones along the 38th parallel, which still acts as the border between the two states.

The decision to split the Korean peninsula into northern and southern states ultimately led to a proxy conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States which we now know as the Korean War, which began with the northern invasion into the south in 1950.

Since the North had been backed by the Soviets and the South by the US, the 38th parallel represented the dividing line between a communist state and a democratic state, and the first act of violence during the Cold War. The Soviets (and later the Chinese) backed the North, and the U.S. backed the South until an armistice was signed in 1953, ending the war. North Korea became a Soviet and Chinese backed communist state, and the South was a U.S.-backed democratic state.

Today, our issue with the north is not purely some anti-communist campaign. North Korea, since 2015, has tested short range, mid range, and long range missiles–some with the capability of reaching U.S. soil. Even more frightening is North Korea’s nuclear developments.

The north has been conducting underground nuclear tests since 2006, but has been testing more since 2013, with two tests alone in 2016. The international community has condemned their missile tests and nuclear program, with little results to show.

Even more concerning to the international community is the violation of human rights, and crimes against humanity in North Korea. Quoting directly from the Human Rights Watch World Report 2017,

“During his fifth year in power, Kim Jong-Un continued to generate fearful obedience by using public executions, arbitrary detention, and forced labor; tightening travel restrictions to prevent North Koreans from escaping and seeking refuge overseas; and systematically persecuting those with religious contacts inside and outside the country. A 2014 United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) report on human rights in North Korea stated that systematic, widespread, and gross human rights violations committed by the government included murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortion, and other sexual violence, and constituted crimes against humanity.”

Many countries have missile and nuclear capabilities that shouldn’t, but almost none are as oppressive as the Kim regime–and that’s what sets them apart in my eyes.

China, another communist country, has supported the north ever since they became independent. In 1961 the two states signed the Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty to ensure that if the South were to invade North Korea, the Chinese and Soviets would help defend them.

The north has also developed economic, diplomatic, and militaristic ties with Pakistan and Iran. Smooth sailing for the Chinese and North Koreans may be getting harder, as Chinese President Xi Jinping has condemned the North Korean’s nuclear testing and has put sanctions on North Korea. Chinese cooperation is absolutely detrimental to the success of any push against the Kim regime.

Trump  has said in the past that North Korea is almost completely dependent on China, which he also clarified is not our friend. Over the course of his campaign, he spoke critically about China, but gave few, if any, substantive thoughts.

His message about North Korea was clear, however; it’s China’s problem, and they won’t do anything because President Obama won’t make them. Now Trump took a long diplomatic tour around Asia in early November, with little about North Korea. Now he indeed has had some form of communication with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un, but it isn’t exactly comforting.

After Trump’s Asia trip in early November, he less than eloquently responded to a comment about him by Kim Jong-Un on Twitter, in which he called the Supreme Leader short and fat, after Kim Jong-Un called him old. Some would argue that little can be accomplished with 280 characters, but here we are, with two of the most powerful men in the world calling each other names like children. This certainly is not the way to avoid nuclear war. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has talked about how diplomacy under the Trump administration has been degraded, and this is a shining example.

I’d also like to point out that it’s hard to get international diplomatic work done without a functioning State Department. The U.S. State Department has a startling number of vacant positions, and when asked about them, Trump said, “I’m the only one that matters, because when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be.”

This points out, yet again, Trump’s reckless disregard for advice, advisers, and the people that work for him. It’s very clear that, in his mind, nobody else’s opinion matters, so why even have people in the State Department? All the policies it creates end with him anyway, right? If he truly believes that he is the only one that matters in the government–that advisors, policymakers, experts, diplomats, and ambassadors aren’t important–what does he see as the limit to his own power?

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