U.S. President Donald Trump delivered his State of the Union address Tuesday. “North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland. We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from happening,” Trump said. “Complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation. I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this dangerous position.” Trump explained the nature of North Korea’s nuclear threat from the depraved character of the North Korean regime by sharing stories of Otto Warmbier, a U.S. college student who was arrested in the North and passed away six days after his return to the United States, and Ji Seong-ho, who was born to an extremely poor family in the North and travelled on crutches to escape.
Trump spent quite a time talking about the North’s oppression of human rights. Though the president was silent on details of Washington’s North Korea policy going forward, he seemed to have decided to raise the pressure on the North to the highest level and respond with super-hardline measures. He said his North Korea policy since the Bill Clinton administration had made situations in the United States more dangerous and affirmed there would be no reasonable compromise. In other words, Trump showed his determination to impose maximum pressure against the North to make it come to the table and discuss denuclearization and expressed his intention to use a military option in order to prevent the North’s reckless provocation.
Trump’s stance on the North has become much tougher, while tensions between the two Koreas are somewhat eased ahead of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. In the meantime, U.S. media outlets have reported that the withdrawal of Victor Cha, a Georgetown professor and senior advisor and Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, from the U.S. administration’s pick for an ambassador to the South can be blamed on the cacophony between Trump and Cha on military options against the North. Cha has been a champion for aggressive push for the North such as hawkish engagement with the North. It makes Trump’s North Korea policy even more mysterious if Cha, a politician supportive of hardline approach, was abandoned from the nomination due to his conflicts regarding a bloody nose strategy with an idea of limited strike against North Korea.
The U.S. president’s aggressive position against North Korea is related to the North’s current attitude. Pyongyang has launched a peace offensive while making Seoul refrain from talking denuclearization. Moreover, it has been reported that the North is planning a military parade with dozens of long-range missiles a day before the opening of the PyeongChang Olympics. These developments have surely contributed for growing of Trump’s hatred against the North. If the North maintains the same attitude after the Olympics, tensions is expected to rise on a flashpoint peninsula again with a warning of war.
The flight schedule of South Korean skiers visiting the North by a chartered plane for joint training was set only one hour before the take-off Wednesday. The delay is due to difficulty in coordinating Seoul and Washington on making exceptions on terms of the U.S.’s sanction on Pyongyang that an airplane landed in the North cannot be returned to the United States for the next 180 days. Though Washington finally agreed to approve such exception this time, Seoul seemed desperate to prepare joint events with Pyongyang, while the North is abandoning the agreement unilaterally. It makes this writer wonder about the South Koran government’s position amid intensifying intensions between North Korea and the United States after the Olympics.