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Trump's Mixed Signals on North Korea

By       Message Dennis Bernstein       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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On Aug. 1, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. is not pushing for regime change in North Korea, but some White House insiders say President Trump is considering going to war. Meanwhile, North Korea claims to have made progress on delivering a potential nuclear strike on the West Coast and beyond.

Tillerson, while saying the Pentagon has updated military options, admitted that a confrontation with North Korea could be catastrophic and suggested that there was still time for negotiations backed by economic pressure.

"We do not seek a regime change, we do not seek the collapse of the regime, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula, we do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th parallel," said Tillerson, referring to the border between North and South Korea.

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"We're not your enemy, we're not your threat but you're presenting an unacceptable threat to us and we have to respond."

I spoke to Flashpoint's Special Correspondent for the Koreas, Kay Jay Noh, about the volatile situation that could become a full blown confrontation at any time. Noh, who was recently in China and Korea, is a longtime political activist, writer and teacher. I spoke to him in Berkeley, California, on July 31.

Dennis Bernstein: U.S. pundits and certain Trump administration officials are talking about a "first strike," a "limited strike." We are flying bombers over the peninsula. What is your understanding of the situation on the ground in both countries?

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Kay Jay Noh: I was in Korea and China recently and the situation on the ground is very different in the two countries. In Korea, people are going about their lives as if things were perfectly normal. In China, there is an escalation to war. It is rather covert but those preparations are becoming more and more evident.

What we do know is that on July 28, the North Koreans launched a Hwasong-14 ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile]. This missile traveled to an altitude of 3,725 kilometers and a distance of 998 kilometers. It was in the air for 47 minutes. So it is clearly an ICBM that has the range to reach the continental United States. The experts are still out on whether the reentry vehicle worked or not.

All of this raises the temperature considerably. As always, the US has stated that all options are on the table. [UN Ambassador] Nikki Haley has said that she is not going to go to the UN anymore because there is no point in doing so. The prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, together with Trump, has said that they are "done talking about North Korea" -- ominous last words perhaps.

Again, it is important to point out that North Korea's missile program is a deterrent one. They do not have a first-strike policy, and they have reiterated on numerous occasions that they are willing to cease their nuclear program if the US will cease its military maneuvers against North Korea.

DB: We need another geography lesson on how close Seoul [the South Korean capital] is to the front lines. What might such a first strike look like?

KJN: A first strike might be on a nuclear facility, it might be on a launch facility, it might be a targeted attempt to take out the leadership. The thing to remember is that the North Korean border is closer to Seoul than Seoul's main airport. The North has between 7,000 and 12,000 conventional artillery pieces pointed at Seoul and could obliterate the city in a short space of time. Estimates are that between 30,000 and 300,000 people could be killed in the first volley of artillery fire.

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North Korea has been using what is referred to in the defense parlance as a "tit-for-tat." Every time it perceives a threat, it responds either rhetorically or militarily. The problem with tit-for-tat as a conflict resolution process is that it often leads to misinterpretation and a spiral of escalation. It seems that we are getting close to a point where things are no longer predictable.

DB: Because the United States refused to sign a peace treaty in 1953 (to officially end the Korean War), we are still essentially in a state of war.

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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)
 

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