The escalation in the war of words between U.S. president Donald Trump and North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, has already produced many hysterical headlines about the threat of a nuclear war – and, even, of a new world war. And indeed, this is precisely what would appear to be the implication of Trump’s reactions to North Korea’s ostentatious missile launches and nuclear experiments, if his reactions were to be taken at face value – for instance, his promise to respond “with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Especially so, as all rich countries’ governments have been unreservedly lining up behind Trump’s condemnations, including those which expressed some timid reservations about his bellicose threats.
But then, what seems to be a rather insane contest between the two leaders to raise the stakes with each other is one thing – but real world politics is quite another. So, while American U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley was dutifully upholding Trump’s line by accusing North Korea of “begging for war” and stating that “the time for talking is over,” Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was declaring to the media that the U.S. administration was in direct contact with North Korea through multiple channels. And although Tillerson’s statement was immediately disowned by Trump, tweeting that he was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man” and asking him to “save your energy, Rex, we’ll do what has to be done,” Tillerson’s admission was probably a more accurate reflection of what is really happening behind the scenes.
Indeed, whatever their rhetoric, neither Trump nor, of course, Kim Jong-un has any interest in triggering a war, which would be politically costly for the former and suicidal for the latter. Nor is the present standoff simply due to the “loose cannon” policy underpinned by Trump’s aggressive “tweets,” or Kim Jong-un’s alleged “paranoia.”
In the meantime, however, a raft of new U.N. sanctions have been...