February 15, 2017

North Korea to Donald Trump: Challenge Accepted

By Patrick M. Cronin

The exclusive, members-only Mar-a-Lago Club is accustomed to keeping out riffraff, but not even Donald Trump’s private retreat fortified by Secret Service agents could prevent Kim Jong-un from intruding upon his golf-diplomacy summit with Shinzo Abe. Test firing a nuclear-capable missile into the Sea of Japan provides a type of admission, albeit a very expensive and unwelcome one.

The test also interrupted forty-eight hours of hugely successful Asia diplomacy for the Trump administration. It abruptly changed the conversation from an invigorated U.S.-Japan alliance and a stabilized U.S.-China relationship. Thus, less than a month into a hugger-mugger transition of power, President Trump’s besieged and revolving national-security team could be forgiven if North Korea’s missile launch—followed by the reported poisoning of Kim Jong-un’s half brother—made some recall Henry Kissinger’s quip that “there cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.”

Kim was counting on creating a crisis for the fledgling Trump administration. By firing a mobile, solid-fuel intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) from an air base near the northwest frontier with China, Kim maximized the element of surprise to ensure intelligence agencies had none of the early-warning signals that would attend a fixed-site, liquid-fuel launch. Kim also chose the moment to provide sharp contrast between his thrusting missile capabilities and the no longer de-stressing leaders of the region’s strongest alliance.

Read the full article at The National Interest.

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