The escalating tensions between the United States and North Korea have gotten to the point where war has become more than just posturing rhetoric from the adversarial parties and where the speculation of a regional conflict or a World War 3 has become a serious consideration for foreign policy experts and the average world citizen. The aggressive back-and-forth has become saturated with blatant threats of military action, overt and veiled warnings of the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons, and the movement and actual usage of military assets. In short, the U.S. and North Korea are now engaged in a game of brinksmanship, a game with high stakes and no winners should some miscalculation be made that plunges the two parties into conflict.
Although the U.S. has used diplomatic means, economic sanctions, spearheaded United Nations’ resolutions and sanctions, and carried on wars of words with various nations — such as the Russian Federation and Iran — over the past few decades, there has been no actual confrontation that seems to have reached the point of brinksmanship (the mutual implied threat of war, even nuclear war) that existed between the U.S. and the Soviet Union for a good portion of the Cold War. Until now, that is. Because the U.S. is dealing with a nuclear power in North Korea, the consequences, although not seen as anything as globally destructive as the potential rain of nuclear weapons that could have been launched out of Soviet Russia, seem to have reached a point where one or the other party in question now could either be pushed or fall of their own accord over the brink that delineates military restraint and an actualized war footing.
It is a precarious place where a simple miscalculation on the part of any of the actors — from North Korea and its trade partner and only ally, China, to the United States and its regional allies, Japan and South Korea — could leverage the momentum that plunges, at the very least, the U.S. and North Korea into a devastating military conflict. At its worst, it could involve the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK — North Korea’s official title) making good on its threats to attack South Korea and Japan, not to mention launch ballistic missiles or in some way deliver nuclear weapons to targets in the United States.
Kathy Gilsinan, writing for The Atlantic, points out that the last three presidents have considered using military means to deal with the growing nuclear weapons program and potential threat that North Korea has posed for the past three decades. Those same presidents opted for containment policies instead of using force to alter the country’s path, policies that have allowed the DPRK to gradually acquire nuclear weapons and build an arsenal of unknown size. Gilsinan also points out that the exchange of harsh rhetoric between Pyongyang and Washington is nothing new, either. However, what has been added to the equation are the seeming intentionally confrontational, perhaps even provocative, maneuverings of the new president of the United States, Donald Trump.
With the Trump administration immediately taking a hard-lined “new approach” in dealing with the regime of Kim Jong-Un, the overly bombastic threats by North Korea of destroying its adversaries with nuclear weapons have taken on a seriousness that did not seem present in years past. With Trump’s threats via Twitter of dealing with the DPRK and its nuclear program, seen as an increasing destabilizing element in east Asia because of Pyongyang’s constant missile and nuclear tests, the new American president has produced an unpredictability aspect that might see, especially with all the military maneuverings taking place, a miscalculation on the part of any of the concerned actors that could, instead of again bringing the adversaries to the brink of conflict, prompt an attack or a retaliatory move that constitutes an act of war.
The latest moves in the new push toward brinksmanship has been a failed missile launch by North Korea, the seventh ballistic missile test of the year. President Trump ordered an aircraft carrier strike force to the region following the DPRK’s prior missile test, which fired off a ballistic missile that splashed down in the Sea of Japan on April 4.
The presence of the naval strike force and its ships increase the U.S. presence in and near South Korea (a presence that in itself multiplies the number of possibilities for a move toward hostilities on the Korean peninsula), where the American and South Korean militaries are currently engaged in the largest joint combat exercises in the allies’ history.
North Korea’s latest missile test came after the country’s vice foreign minister, Han Song Ryol, told the Associated Press (per The Inquisitr) that the U.S. was to blame for “making trouble” in the region and noted that President Trump’s “aggressive tweets” were problematic.
The problem with the game of brinksmanship is with perception — the perception of just how far one can push one’s adversary before they either stand down and sue for a peaceful resolution to the situation at hand (or at the very least concede a stalemate without further action from either party) while at the same time committing oneself to moving to a preordained imaginary point where a line will not be crossed in attempting to gain an acquiescence or concession of demands, a point where one believes the adversary will still refrain from military measures as their countervailing move. But what if one’s farthest point in the game crosses the line the adversary has chosen in its own self-interent for a movement too far? Such a miscalculation could result in a confrontation or conflict where a regional war. Worse, it might see millions of casualties because of an ill-conceived nuclear exchange or even grow to have World War 3 implications.
But playing brinksmanship is the relationship state wherein the U.S. and North Korea now find themselves. And with a regime leader in North Korea who openly extols the idea of nuclear war with the United States and a president and administration in America that has repeatedly stated that the limited use of nuclear weapons is an acceptable option in a war setting, there can be little wonder that the fear of getting closer to the brink of a nuclear exchange or the outbreak of World War 3 has become worrisome for those billions forced to watch the dangerous game.
[Featured Image by Razvan Ionut Dragomirescu/Shutterstock]