Is War with North Korea Inevitable?

When Donald J. Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, one of the stated initiatives of his administration was to pivot the country’s interests away from Asia which was the road map built by his predecessor, Barack Obama for U.S. foreign policy.

But when President Trump makes his first visit to Asia from November 4 to 12, he would need to pivot back to his counterparts in the region to ask their support of initiatives and interests that no longer protect those of the United States but perhaps the entire human race.

A growing number of foreign policy and political analysts believe the United States and its allies; particularly South Korea and Japan, are closer to the eventuality of war with North Korea than ever before.

Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster is of the opinion that the U.S. is running out of time in solving the standoff with North Korea:

“We are in a race to solve this, short of military action. President Trump is not going to accept this regime threatening the United States with a nuclear weapon.”

Efforts to resolve the situation through diplomacy are seen as largely ineffective because of North Korea’s unwillingness to negotiate until it has the capability to develop a nuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missile which is unacceptable to the United States.

Robert Einhorn, who served as a special adviser for the State Department for non-proliferation and arms control, thinks North Korea’s position is a reflection of its supreme leader Kim Jong Un’s mindset:

“Kim Jong Un has made it very clear that he considers his nuclear deterrent to be the key to survival and the key to deterring what he perceived to be a hostile United States. I just don’t think that we’re going to be able to mount the sanctions campaign that’s going to persuade Kim Jong Un to give it up and give it up soon.”

Alexander Vershbow who was the U.S. ambassador to South Korea under President George W. Bush and the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs under President Obama believes North Korea finds U.S. demands oppressive and that Kim had learned his lessons from the experience of other world leaders:

“The incentives to retain this capability may be much stronger and because of what the administration has said about the unacceptability of their possessing the capability to deliver nukes to the United States, seems to have made a military solution increasingly hard to avoid. Kim has also internalized the lessons of what happened to Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi.”

Many experts share the opinion that having nuclear capability is Kim’s insurance against being overthrown by the U.S.

Chris Hill who served as the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs under George W. Bush thinks the best approach would be to continue toward the current path the administration is on and get support from the United States’ allies especially China:

“I don’t see we have a choice but to continue this and try to be closer to our allies and really sit down with the Chinese and explain why we’re not going to put up with this.”

Kori Schake, former member of George W. Bush’s National Security Council, Pentagon and the State Department also shares Hill’s opinion that the standoff could benefit the United States:

“If we are frozen in the standoff, that leaves time for economic sanctions to work.”

As North Korea’s long-time ally, China figures to play an important role in the diplomatic process. Beijing has stated its disapproval for Pyongyang’s continued testing of ICBM’s and belligerent behaviour toward Japan, South Korea and the United States.

The Chinese government has implemented a series of trade sanctions on Pyongyang specifically on its importation of textiles and has ordered North Korean companies to close down operations by 2018.

The world will be watching and waiting with bated breath when Trump visits Asia. Concerns abound on whether Kim will use the visit as an opportunity to send a strong message to Trump via another missile test. If Kim does, it may be the trigger that sets Trump off and launch a war in the Korean Peninsula.