If President Donald Trump didn’t initially realize the importance of diplomacy and a fully-funded State Department, North Korea’s latest missile launches should have brought that lesson home.
And if China doesn’t want the United States and South Korea to install a new anti-missile defense system to thwart a potential North Korean attack, perhaps it should be more active in changing North Korea’s military priorities.
China, of course, doesn’t see the new missile system — Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense System — primarily as a response to North Korea. Rather, China is more worried about the possibility of South Korean and American troops operating on its border if the government of North Korea collapses than it is of North Korea possessing nuclear weapons and missiles with which to launch them.
That’s a difficult dilemma, to be sure, but China has greater influence, and leverage, over North Korea than any of the other nations — the United States, South Korea, Russia or Japan (which is considering bolstering its own missile defense) — that have been involved in multilateral negotiations with North Korea.
The latest round of North Korean launches actually began several weeks ago when Pyongyang launched a solid-rocket missile, a technological advance over the liquid-fueled missiles it had launched before that. Then on Monday, North Korea fired four missiles simultaneously that landed in the sea east of Japan.
The North said the launches were tests for eventual strikes against U.S. bases in Japan, although North Korea has on multiple occasions said the United States is the real target. As has occurred in the past, these launches coincided with annual joint military exercises involving South Korea and the United States. They’re defensive in nature, but North Korean President Kim Jong-Un has long considered them acts of aggression against his country.
The Trump administration warned of “very dire consequences,” but has done little tangible. Words alone won’t be sufficient. The new defensive missile system in South Korea was approved by the Obama administration, which has issued repeated warnings to China that the system would be installed if China were not more involved in taming North Korea.
Unfortunately, no one has found a way to do that.
What President Trump does, or doesn’t do, with regard to the latest missile launches matters immensely, and not just in terms of North Korea’s nuclear program and stability in that region.
It also matters as an indication of how the United States under this new president might respond to other potential threats to America’s national security.