My response: My answer is a bit lengthy, but I feel an earnest question deserves more than a pithy remark or two.
Foal Eagle is an annual joint military exercise conducted every March by the combined armed forces of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the United States.(1) “These exercises are defensive in nature, and they have been carried out regularly, openly and transparently for nearly 40 years,” according to Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis.(2)
During these periods, there has always been an increase in rhetoric from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). The fear of invasion by U.S. and South Korean forces has been typically met with increased propaganda and shows of strength by Pyongyang.
What is different now than in years past are the significant strides North Korea has made in its nuclear weapons capability, and Donald Trump, current President of the United States, whose own truculence and narcissism match and often exceed that of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Notwithstanding Trump’s repeated statements indicating a possible preemptive military strike in North Korea, South Korean President Moon Jae-in does not appear willing to leave this matter solely in the hands of Mr. Trump.
“Military action on the Korean peninsula can only be decided by South Korea and no one else can decide to take military action without the consent of South Korea,” said Moon. “The government, putting everything on the line, will block war by all means.”(3)
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has suggested that all parties involved should “make a correct judgment and wise choice by taking a responsible attitude toward history and people,”(4) and also suggested that South Korea and the United States suspend their military exercises, thus lessening North Korea’s fears of a perceived invasion.(5)
In my view, history suggests that North Korea seeks to be recognized as a sovereign nation and world power through its nuclear weapons capability, much like its revered ally, the People’s Republic of China, did under Mao Zedong in the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, North Korea’s path—diverting much of its resources toward its nuclear program while sacrificing the well-being of its people—is strikingly similar to China’s.
To this end, there will be continued bellicose rhetoric from North Korea. While past U.S. presidents have turned a deaf ear to such discourse, Mr. Trump apparently has no such internal restraint. His out-sized view of North Korea—possessor of perhaps 10 warheads—as a nuclear threat to the U.S. appears incongruous when one considers the nuclear warhead inventories of Russia, 7000; China, 270; or Pakistan, 140; as well as the United States own, and possibly retaliatory, arsenal of 6800.(6)
North Korean General Kim Rak-gyom, commander of the North’s strategic rocket forces, has decried Trump, saying, “sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason who is going senile.”(7)
Phil Mudd, former CIA counter-terrorism expert and current security consultant to CNN, warns that Trump’s ad-libbed pronouncements of dire consequences complicates the diplomatic process.(8) Mudd says that Trump has ratcheted up the crisis to the point where he has boxed himself into a corner; neither the American people nor the world has any idea just what is Trump’s foreign policy.(9)
Given all this, I feel the North Korean threat is being overblown by Trump, as much to appease his own puerile ego as it is meant to overshadow suspicions of ties by himself and/or his campaign to Russia, his lack of leadership, his domestic policy failures and views that he is an extension of this country’s extreme right wing.
(5) Op. cit.