Ed­i­to­ri­als: Cal­cu­lat­ing the threat from North Korea

Kim Jong-un is a small (if round) man with big and deadly am­bi­tions

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY -

“The land of the morn­ing calm” is any­thing but that. The an­cient Korean name for the di­vided penin­sula is be­lied by the ten­sion sim­mer­ing for nearly 70 years, en­livened with fre­quent bursts of cross-bor­der in­vec­tive and some­times vi­o­lence.

It threat­ens to erupt into some­thing worse again, now that the United States has a pres­i­dent who takes se­ri­ously the er­ratic be­hav­ior of a dic­ta­tor. North Korea armed with nu­clear weapons is not merely an Asian Syria, but a na­tion with nu­clear weapons of its own. Don­ald Trump must pro­ceed with a care­ful eye, a keen ear and stay on the right side of the thin line be­tween blus­ter and authen­tic provo­ca­tion .

Five years as the petu­lant leader, Kim Jong-un has sur­passed his fa­ther and grand­fa­ther for man­u­fac­tur­ing out­rage. Three gen­er­a­tions of nu­clear am­bi­tion are reach­ing fruition with the as­sis­tance of a fel­low rogue in Iran.

The con­join­ing of nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ity with bal­lis­tic mis­sile de­liv­ery tests has made the North’s pe­ri­odic threats to rain nu­clear de­struc­tion on an Amer­i­can city a greaterthan-re­mote pos­si­bil­ity. That’s some­thing that Pres­i­dent Trump, with his de­ter­mi­na­tion to “make Amer­ica great again,” re­fuses to let slide. Ag­gres­sion any­where is a warn­ing of ag­gres­sion ev­ery­where, and like it or not, deal­ing with it is the unique re­spon­si­bil­ity of the su­per­power. In short or­der Mr. Trump has an­swered Syria’s use of chem­i­cal weapons and dis­patched an air­craft car­rier bat­tle group to a sta­tion off the Korean Penin­sula.

He makes no apolo­gies for his bold ap­proach to re­solv­ing per­sis­tent prob­lems, nor should he. “I ex­plained to the pres­i­dent of China that a trade deal with the U.S. will be far bet­ter for them if they solve the North Korean prob­lem!” Mr. Trump tweeted (with his trade­mark ex­cla­ma­tion point) on Tues­day morn­ing, and con­tin­ued tweet­ing: “North Korea is look­ing for trou­ble. If China de­cides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the prob­lem with­out them! U.S.A.”

Rodong Sin­mun, the of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment news­pa­per in Py­ongyang, re­sponded with an­other nu­clear threat: “Our revo­lu­tion­ary strong army is keenly watch­ing every move by en­emy el­e­ments with our nu­clear sight fo­cused on the U.S. in­va­sion­ary bases not only in South Korea and the Pa­cific op­er­a­tion the­atre but also in the U.S. main­land.” An­niver­saries are im­por­tant in Asia, and with the birth­day of Kim Il-sung, the na­tion’s founder, on Satur­day, the grand­son might well mark the oc­ca­sion with a sixth nu­clear test.

Amer­i­can in­tel­li­gence has strug­gled since the ’90s to gauge with ac­cu­racy Py­ongyang’s progress to­ward a func­tional nu­clear weapon, and Kim’s un­der­ground ex­plo­sions and rock­ets have de­mol­ished the smug as­sur­ances that there is noth­ing to fear in the near term. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is cov­er­ing, as it must, a wide range of even­tu­al­i­ties. The White House rightly ob­serves that the North Korean “threat” is no threat at all if it is not cred­i­ble, and H.R. McMaster, the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser, says the Navy’s voy­age to­ward Korea is “pru­dent” and “that what must hap­pen is the de­nu­cle­ariza­tion of the Korean Penin­sula.”

Sev­eral Amer­i­can pres­i­dents have al­lowed North Korea’s suc­ces­sion of “dear lead­ers” to play games with them, but the new pres­i­dent is not a will­ing par­tic­i­pant in a game with nu­clear weapons. Un­der­stand­ing the Korean cul­ture is an ac­quired skill, and more com­pli­cated than the West some­times rec­og­nizes. Vig­i­lance is the right re­sponse to en­e­mies that bear Amer­ica ill.

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