WASHINGTON -– To the surprise of many, it was announced earlier this week that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) had agreed to consider ending its nuclear and ballistic missile program, while also being open to talks with the United States to resolve the inflamed tensions between the two nations.
According to South Korean National Security Office special envoy Chung Eui-yong, North Korea had also promised to suspend provocations during said talks and had even committed to not using any weapons against the South Korean capital, Seoul, were talks to fail and war to break out. The news came after South Korea and DPRK leadership sought to restore relations as the prospect of war on the Korean peninsula threatened to break out at any moment, threatening millions of lives.
Unsurprisingly, this “breakthrough” has been seen by many as a “victory” for the administration of President Donald Trump, with many in the corporate and even independent media praising the president’s “hard-line negotiating tactics” for their role in helping North Korean leadership reconsider its controversial military programs. Bloomberg, for instance, suggested that “Trump’s North Korea Threats May Be Paying Off” while the Los Angeles Times asserted that Trump’s “insults, sanctions and a willingness to talk” helped bring North Korea to the “bargaining table.” All in all, the narrative is being established that Trump’s “unorthodox approach to diplomacy” resulted in a favorable outcome on the Korean peninsula.
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This, of course, means that Trump is likely to use such “negotiating tactics” again against other nations, given the positive outcomes and press coverage they have recently generated.
However, Trump’s redefinition of diplomacy is hardly something to be celebrated.
Nuclear bullying is a perversion of diplomacy
For those who have been following the Trump administration’s actions regarding North Korea over the course of his presidency, mental gymnastics are a must if one is to call Trump’s efforts “diplomacy.” Indeed, Trump’s diplomatic efforts include his now famous threat to attack North Korea with “fire and fury unlike the world has ever seen,” suggesting that any U.S. attack on North Korea would dwarf the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the close of the Second World War.
A month later, during his debut at the United Nations, Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if it failed to give up on its defensive nuclear weapons program. Trump’s comments were followed by those of influential Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who threatened the North Korean populace with “extinction” if the country refused to completely acquiesce to U.S. demands.
Watch | Trump threatens North Korea with “total destruction”
Soon after, the Pentagon told Congress that a full-scale invasion of North Korea was the only way to destroy North Korea’s nuclear weapons, suggesting that the White House’s plans for a “limited” war on the Korean peninsula would likely not stay limited for long. Adding insult to injury, The Trump administration recently announced it was planning a “bloody nose” attack on North Korea — i.e., a preemptive strike against the nation that, based on the Pentagon’s new Nuclear Posture Review, could also involve nuclear weapons.
In addition to the belligerent threat of bringing nuclear war to the Korean peninsula, the U.S. also led the push for harsh sanctions against the isolated country, leading North Korean leadership to call the sanctions “an act of war.” The sanctions, as is the case with the use of sanctions elsewhere, have hit civilians the hardest by restricting the country’s fuel supply, used for heating and transport, in the middle of winter; while also expelling North Koreans working as foreign guest workers — thereby reducing remittances, an important source of civilian income.
Peace activist @christineahn, now at https://t.co/Xup8cdtnFB: Trump's policy of "draconian sanctions" against North Korea is not achieving the goal of denuclearization, "but it is achieving the aim of hurting ordinary civilians, children, women" pic.twitter.com/oHcLUEYMrs
— Democracy Now! (@democracynow) February 9, 2018
Beyond the overt threats and actions taken against North Korean civilians, the Trump administration has also rejected China’s prior efforts to broker talks between the United States and North Korea regarding its nuclear program. These offers have been repeatedly turned down by Trump as well as his predecessor, Barack Obama. This was largely due to the fact that the U.S. refused to abandon its annual war games with South Korea and other neighboring countries which simulate an invasion of North Korea — war games that continued last year alongside Trump’s bellicose rhetoric and imposition of harsh sanctions.
These war games have been seen for decades as a major obstacle to peace in the Korean peninsula, as they are stark and traumatic reminders of the destruction inflicted on North Korea by the U.S. during the Korean War.
Thus, Trump’s “diplomatic victory” is hardly diplomatic at all.
If anything, Trump’s threats of nuclear annihilation have led North Korea to now simply ask that the safety of its current leadership be guaranteed in exchange for its denuclearization instead of risking the country’s “total destruction.” This route is safer for North Korea, as it relies on the support of its key ally China, which promised to intervene militarily to prevent U.S.-brokered regime change in North Korea, but only if the U.S. struck first.
“Ah, you’re just saying uncle!”
While the corporate media is lauding Trump for his “diplomatic victory,” his administration is certainly not treating it as one. Instead, the Trump administration slapped more sanctions on North Korea just a day after the South Korean delegation returned from Pyongyang with news of the diplomatic breakthrough. It also announced that upcoming war games with South Korea would continue as planned despite the North’s conciliatory tone.
MORE: State Department says it imposes additional sanctions on North Korea over assassination pic.twitter.com/mMiHuIJyk8
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) March 7, 2018
In addition, Trump himself has noted that North Korea’s consideration of negotiations is “positive” but may also represent a “false hope.” Interestingly, this “false hope” narrative is simultaneously being promoted by the same corporate media outlets praising Trump’s “unorthodox diplomacy.”
For instance, the Los Angeles Times wrote that North Korea’s willingness to negotiate could be “a smokescreen while he [North Korean leader Kim Jong-un] gets closer to building a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the continental United States. U.S. officials say that goal could be just months away.”
Possible progress being made in talks with North Korea. For the first time in many years, a serious effort is being made by all parties concerned. The World is watching and waiting! May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 6, 2018
The New York Post echoed that same narrative, stating that “Dictator Kim Jong-un’s move [towards diplomacy] comes straight out of the rogue-regime playbook: Offer peace to distract from preparations for war.” CNN, for its part, suggested that Trump – were he to take the diplomatic route with North Korea – would be falling into a “familiar North Korean trap.”
The coupling of these narratives may suggest a push towards war despite the headway made in diplomacy. If Trump decides to embrace the diplomatic route, he will be accused of weakness and falling into a “familiar trap.” Yet, if the President decides to move forward with the more aggressive option, these narratives will justify any military action the U.S. may take by painting North Korea’s calls for a diplomatic solution as insincere and diversionary — part of a malevolent plan on the part of the North Koreans to buy time to complete their weapons programs in order to threaten the U.S. directly.
In other words, regardless of how much North Korea may capitulate to U.S. demands in negotiations, the threat of war will remain. Following this logic suggests that Trump’s much-touted “diplomatic victory” may never have even been intended to bring peace to the Korean peninsula.
Scream loudly and carry a nuclear stick?
Whether or not North Korea’s willingness to negotiate was ever part of Trump’s plan, it establishes a dangerous precedent for the future of diplomacy as a form of conflict resolution. With the corporate media framing Trump’s uncouth belligerence as diplomacy, it allows that word to be redefined completely. Now, threats to slaughter millions of civilians with nuclear weapons – though “unorthodox” — are recognized as a “hard line negotiating tactic” with proven results.
This is hardly what Teddy Roosevelt imagined when he uttered his famous (or infamous) advice to “Talk softly, but carry a big stick.” Now, the “stick” has become nuclear annihilation and the one carrying it is waving it around, screaming threats of “fire and fury” and “extinction.”
This is, to say the least, a most dangerous game and a major step backward from a half-century’s efforts to put the worst of the nuclear scare behind us and move away from the edge of such depravity.
Trump’s nuclear bullying ultimately sends the following message to other countries that find themselves at odds with Washington: “Comply with all of our demands or we will make plans to wipe your country off the face of the Earth with our nuclear weapons.” This redefinition of “diplomacy” has ushered in a dangerous new age of American foreign policy, one where American military might is used to threaten those who oppose its empire with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
In short, American diplomacy has gone nuclear.
Top Photo | President Donald Trump, left, listens to South Korean President Moon Jae-in during a joint news conference at the Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Nov. 7, 2017. (AP/Andrew Harnik)
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News who has written for several news organizations in both English and Spanish; her stories have been featured on ZeroHedge, the Anti-Media, and 21st Century Wire among others. She currently lives in Southern Chile.
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