Trump’s NK policy lacks coherence
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Donald Trump administration’s lack of coherence in dealing with North Korea signals danger for the United States and even the world, a seasoned expert on East Asian policies said.
“Trump’s inflammatory remarks and tweets that directly challenged North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had been unforeseen and amounted to an extremely risky course of action,” Jonathan Pollack, a leading East Asia policy scholar at the Brookings Institution, said in a recent interview with the Medill News Service.
“Words like the ones that Trump used have an inherent possibility of being misconstrued,” Pollack said. “There may be actions being taken by others that really were not somehow the intended purpose.”
Trump’s new chief of staff, John Kelly, is widely seen to establish a more rigorous operation at the White House and a coherent position on North Korea. Kelly, a retired Marine general, has yet to take a political stanceregardingNorthKorea.
According to Pollack, Trump’s threats about North Korea could start a conflict that would be “catastrophic.”
“Fundamentally, I think the core goal for now has to be to avoid any possible risk on the peninsula,” Pollack said. “That’s why anything that implies the U.S. might undertake unilateral action, even if the U.S. was not prepared to do that, even that kind of loose talk, is worrying.”
According to Pollack, the South Korean President Moon Jae-in is taking a “realist turn.” “Despite the ideas that might be at the core of his beliefs, he’s shown a lot of realism in lots of circumstances,” Pollack said.
“On the level of senior officials just before Trump’s level, they’re finding a way to maintain better communication, and many of the actions they’re taking — most recently the decision to proceed more quickly with the THAAD deployment — are steps that I would not have anticipated Moon being willing to take when he came into office.”
Another problem, Pollack said, is the continuing turnover of White House staff, most recently the dismissal of chief strategist Steve Bannon, one of Trump’s closest advisers. Bannon’s surprise departure came just a week after Trump’s controversial warning that he would respond to North Korean provocations with “fire and fury,” which raised fears of cascading threats.
While it is unclear what role Bannon played in advising Trump on national security, Pollack said Bannon’s position was sensible — there is no feasible military option in dealing with North Korea.
Meanwhile, the Brooking’s expert stressed Trump needs to speed up the process of naming Washington’s top envoy to Seoul to better handle North Korea-related issues.
More than seven months after taking office, Trump hasn’t named Washington’s ambassador to South Korea.
Pollack said that confirming an ambassador who has the confidence of the White House and the State Department would be a crucial step in defining U.S. policy.
“We have this very incomplete process right now,” Pollack said. “The obvious dangers of a real crisis on the peninsula should not be minimized. You really need to have all the relevant people in place to have a fully functioning policy process.”