US President Donald Trump’s threats to “totally destroy” North Korea is counterproductive and justify Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and missile programs that it insists are for self-defense, according to analysts.
Trump said Tuesday that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was “on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime,” and that if the US is “forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”
Analysts say Trump’s speech could have an opposite effect, intensifying the deteriorating situation in the Korean peninsula.
“With those words, President Trump handed the Kim regime the sound bite of the century,” said Marcus Noland at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “It will play on a continuous loop on North Korean national television.”
Joel Wit, senior fellow at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, said despite the bluster, it was far from clear that Washington was ready to pay the human price for a conflict.
However, Trump is a “wildcard and it’s hard for anyone to figure out when he is serious and when he isn’t,” Wit told the AFP.
The US has 28,500 troops stationed in the South, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War which ended in a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty.
North Korean artillery stationed near its border with the South puts nearby Seoul and its millions of inhabitants in the crosshairs of conventional weapons.
Japan and its large cities, including its capital city, Tokyo, are also within easy reach of North Korean missiles.
Any US attack would risk massive retaliation with a potentially catastrophic loss of life.
Earlier this year Trump’s former chief adviser Steve Bannon told The American Prospect magazine that “there’s no military solution, forget it.”
Trump’s comments probably sound to North Korean ears like empty threats, said Wit.
“I suspect they think they are going to prove (Trump) to be a paper tiger,” he told AFP.
Mira Rapp-Hooper, senior research scholar at the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School, added that if the purpose of Trump’s “apocalyptic language” is to bring the North Koreans to the negotiating table, his approach to diplomacy is likely to be working against him.
In the same General Assembly speech, he also threatened to end the Iran nuclear agreement that was reached with world powers — a move which makes the US look like an unreliable negotiating partner.