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Two angry children with lit matches on the brink of causing destruction

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By Tahi Izumi 

Children are fascinating! but occasionally, they must be told to  behave.

By analyzing the actions of both Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump through the realist theory, the existing tension between the leaders could escalate to World War III, with the use of nuclear arsenals, and could cause devastation worse than that which occurred in Hiroshima. Under the era of Kim Jong Un, North Korea has seen progress in nuclear capabilities, which have become more threatening than ever before, as proven through the testing of ballistic missiles. President Trump, on the other hand, has been increasing his verbal threats towards North Korea, and is engaging in military drills with neighboring countries in East Asia to counter a possible North Korean attack. In fact, the meddling of both leaders has left the world’s safety hanging on a cliff’s edge once again.

From a realist perspective, Kim Jong Un’s advancement in nuclear development is in the best interest of North Korea as it ensures its survival from external threats. Nuclear weapons would increase the country’s power in regards to securing political independence and self-reliance through defensive strategies. It is also a central tool for North Korea’s foreign policy towards the region. North Korea assumes that unless its power or security is maximized, there is always a chance that they may be dominated by other powers in the international system. With this perceived possibility, the pace and intensity of Kim’s long-range nuclear strike capabilities have not only increased over the years, but has become more threatening to Asia and the world. His veracity is seen especially after the ballistic missile tests on the 29th of April, 2017, following U.S. Secretary of State Tillerson’s warning to North Korea on the consequences of using nuclear weapons.

North Korean leadership, does not see the U.S. as strong-willed enough to face the costs of war, and eventually, it’s assumed that the U.S. will eventually accept a nuclear North Korea. Leadership also hopes that the U.S. will treat it with the same  geostrategic weight that initiated détente with the Soviet Union.

However, the best solution for the United States, would be to buy more time against North Korea’s nuclearization efforts and to use it to halt and reverse North Korea’s current course. It is difficult to visualize that the United States will suddenly recognize North Korea’s legitimacy and pursue a normal relationship with a totalitarian regime. President Trump follows a classical realist ideal: that Conflict is inevitable. Through this, his administration emphasizes that strategic patience is no longer an option, and it is ready to confront Kim Jong Un. This has been proven by Trump’s statement that North Korea’s nuclear threats will be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” In fact, this threat escalated tensions, causing North Korea to plan a ballistic missile launch towards Guam in mid-August 2017.

On another note, President Trump and his national security adviser, General McMaster, have both agreed on a nuclear option that includes the possibility of a first strike. Given the destructive potential of the nuclear arsenals on both sides, the option would lead to an event of mass genocide.

Concerns of a possible military escalation have also caused the US and Japan to engage in live fire drills as part of the Northern Viper 17 military exercises that have been regularly conducted by both countries. In addition to this, the usual US and South Korean war games took place on the 21st of August 2017. Kim sees joint military drills as an act of aggression by the U.S. and states that he will pay close attention to the actions before deciding to launch missiles near Guam. U.S. military officials described the joint exercises as a show of unity and force that portrayed the U.S.’s commitment to its allies. Because Trump seeks to display more robust engagement in maintaining the status quo on the Korean peninsula, his actions support the realist claim that the drills are necessary to ensure the protection of the countries interests in the region. Yet, it is also to show that the U.S. retains hegemonic power in the world. Frustratingly, this sentiment is pushing the risk of a war to the brink.

Similarly to two children who have been recklessly playing with lit matches, the best option to deal with both leaders would be for a higher figure to sit them down and convince them to behave. Unfortunately, there is no highly respected overarching power that both leaders would listen to. From a realist perspective, both leaders see their respective countries as hegemonic, and therefore, are free to make their own decisions on the actions they take. This leads to an imbalance of power in the region, as U.S. actions would tip the balance in favor of allies, and China would support North Korea in the case of a U.S. attack. The balance of power is as important as it is what countries need to survive in an anarchic international system, and it is necessary for the de-escalation of threats and conflict. Without this balance, the provocative threats and decisions made by both leaders could be what brings the world closer to another global war. 

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