Word choice mat­ters in North Korea

Trump’s threat fits with North Korea’s im­age of u.s.: anal­y­sis

North Bay Nugget - - WORLD NEWS - FOSTER KLUG

seoul, Korea, re­pub­lic of — don­ald Trump’s threat to un­leash “fire and fury” on North Korea might have been writ­ten by Py­ongyang’s pro­pa­ganda mavens, so per­fectly does it fit the North’s cher­ished claim that it is a vic­tim of amer­i­can ag­gres­sion.

Not since ge­orge W. Bush la­beled North Korea part of an “axis of evil” has the na­tion had such a strong piece of pres­i­den­tial ev­i­dence to back up its ar­gu­ment that only nu­clear and mis­sile de­vel­op­ment can counter “hos­tile” u.s. poli­cies aimed at end­ing the rule of the lat­est mem­ber of the Kim fam­ily of dic­ta­tors.

Trump now runs sev­eral risks by match­ing his rhetoric to that of the North, which has reg­u­larly vowed to re­duce archri­val seoul to a “sea of fire.”

Word choice mat­ters on the Korean Penin­sula. a tor­rent of bel­liger­ent warn­ings by the North in 2013, for in­stance, in­clud­ing nu­clear strike threats against spe­cific u.s. tar­gets, led to an anx­ious, weeks-long stand­off that saw the united states fly its most pow­er­ful war­planes — nu­clear ca­pa­ble B-2 and B-52 bombers, and F-22 stealth fight­ers — near the North Korean bor­der.

The risk, now as then, is that heated words could cause a mis­cal­cu­la­tion that might trig­ger real fight­ing across the most heav­ily armed bor­der on earth, a bor­der that’s only a short drive from greater seoul’s 25 mil­lion peo­ple.

Trump’s com­ments Tues­day were ac­tu­ally linked to Py­ongyang ’s never-end­ing stream of threats: “North Korea had best not make any more threats to the united states,” Trump said. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Though it seems un­likely it was di­rectly re­spond­ing to those com­ments, the North on Wed­nes­day re­peated past warn­ings that it’s ex­am­in­ing op­er­a­tional plans for at­tack­ing the u.s. ter­ri­tory of guam.

This is mostly a bluff: North Korea is ex­tremely un­likely to follow through on a sui­ci­dal pre-emp­tive at­tack on the united states. But there is also al­most zero chance that the North will miss the op­por­tu­nity to put its pro­pa­ganda spe­cial­ists to work top­ping Trump’s threat of to­tal war. Py­ongyang, af­ter all, may be the world’s lead­ing pro­ducer of such threats — against seoul, against Tokyo, against Wash­ing­ton, against essen­tially any­thing or any­one seen as hos­tile.

as John delury, an asia spe­cial­ist at seoul’s yon­sei univer­sity, tweeted fol­low­ing Trump’s com­ments, “Try­ing to out-threaten North Korea is like try­ing to out-pray the Pope.”

The risk is that what works for a tiny, im­pov­er­ished dic­ta­tor­ship that has long seen it­self as sand­wiched be­tween geopo­lit­i­cal be­he­moths whose only aim is us­ing the Korean Penin­sula for their own in­ter­ests might not work for the world’s most pow­er­ful econ­omy and mil­i­tary.

Trump now con­fronts a prob­lem that North Korea has long faced: over-the-top threats are one thing, but what do you do when you can’t back them up?

so far, of course, North Korea has favoured smaller scale sneak at­tacks over fol­low­ing through with its threats to launch mis­siles into seoul, let alone a u.s. ter­ri­tory. North Korea will surely con­tinue its nu­clear blus­ter, but Trump can­not bring “fire and fury” with­out risk­ing the de­struc­tion of seoul, and the deaths of tens of thousands of u.s. troops and cit­i­zens in south Korea.

Trump’s com­ments also feed North Korea’s crav­ing for global at­ten­tion.

The coun­try uses its scary rhetoric and nu­clear boasts to force it­self to the top of out­side gov­ern­ments’ for­eign pol­icy lists. For the North, be­ing ig­nored is a worse fate than be­ing crit­i­cized.

Trump’s “fire and fury” line might also hurt his ef­forts to get China, the North’s eco­nomic and diplo­matic en­abler, to do more to curb Py­ongyang’s nu­clear am­bi­tions.

China, though it does not want a nu­clear North Korea, sym­pa­thizes with Py­ongyang’s claim that it is un­der real threat from Wash­ing­ton.

“The u.s. is try­ing to tell China, ‘We’re not in this for regime change; we’re not try­ing to take down (leader) Kim Jong un; we’re not try­ing to re­unify the Korean Penin­sula; what we want is to ne­go­ti­ate their nukes a way,’ ” delury said in an in­ter­view. “To use un­prece­dented, in­flam­ma­tory lan­guage, to threaten war on North Korea be­cause they make threats, un­der­mines the work the u.s. is try­ing to do to keep the Chi­nese on board.”

Be­fore Trump’s threat, the North’s big­gest re­cent ex­am­ple of so-called u.s. hos­til­ity was the joint mil­i­tary drills staged by al­lies Wash­ing­ton and seoul. Those start up again in a few weeks. ex­pect to see “fire and fury” drive North Korean pro­pa­ganda then, and for a long time to come.

Kim Won-Jin/GETTY IMAGES

Peo­ple wave ban­ners and shout slo­gans as they at­tend a rally in sup­port of North Korea’s stance against the U.S., on Kim Il-Sung square in Py­ongyang on Wed­nes­day.

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