North Korean actions speak loudly as world leaders say little

Special to

metzlerBy John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — As a North Korean medium range Pukguksong missile arched across the sky landing menacingly in the Sea of Japan, the intended political target of the nuclear capable rocket was the visit of Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the United States.

The rash gambit by the quaintly titled Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) failed in its intended mission; the USA and Japan reaffirmed their friendship and defense solidarity and the Trump Administration reacted with a cool and measured response to Pyongyang’s provocation.

Kim Jong-Un, left, and his older half brother Kim Jong-Nam.
Kim Jong-Un, left, and his older half brother Kim Jong-Nam.

President Donald Trump proclaimed the U.S./Japan alliance as a “cornerstone of peace in the Pacific” and later spoke of Japan as “an important and steadfast ally.” The President stressed he was committed to closer bilateral ties with one of America’s largest trading partners, during what the Wall Street Journal described as a “strikingly friendly summit.”

Such sentiments smoothed over Trump’s campaign statements regarding Japan which hinted that the close post-war ties between Tokyo and Washington were under review.

Days later, while Abe and Trump were visiting the President’s Florida “southern White House” and playing a round of golf, which in Japan is viewed as a bonding deal-making gesture, the North Koreans fired off the missile. President Trump said merely that “The United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent.”

Bill Richardson, a former Bill Clinton era UN Ambassador and diplomatic trouble shooter to North Korea, told CNN that he thought President Trump’s statement “was an appropriate message, it was measured and did not overreact.” Richardson added that North Korea was testing the new Administration and that Trump’s comment “keeps options on the table.”

In an emergency closed door meeting, the UN Security Council again took up the challenge of North Korea’s missile proliferation. “The members of the Security Council strongly condemned the most recent ballistic missile launches conducted by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”

The statement added that the recent tests were in direct violation of four separate Council resolutions since 2006.

The fifteen-member Council reiterated that North Korea shall “refrain from further actions, including nuclear tests, in violation of Security Council resolutions.”

Pyongyang carried out its fifth nuclear test in September 2016. Communist North Korea is the only country in the world to have tested nuclear weapons this century.

Significantly we have entered the period 16 Feb.-15 April, the Loyalty Festival in which North Korea’s communists celebrate and commemorate the births of the dictatorship’s founding fathers, Kim Il-Sung on 15 April and his son Kim Jong-Il on 16 Feb..

Numerology plays a key role in the reclusive Red Oz of North Korea and surprising events often occur.

During this period the DPRK may try yet another missile launch or nuclear test. On the eve of the festival, Kim Jong-Nam the estranged half brother of current leader Kim Jong-Un was mysteriously murdered in Malaysia. Though the eldest first born son of Kim Jong-Il lived in exile in Chinese controlled Macau, he was often viewed to be a potential successor to the current Pyongyang leadership.

The real issue becomes whether Beijing is merely enduring the erratic rule of Kim Jong-Un or wishes to reestablish China’s historic big brother protection/control over the Korean peninsula.

Equally the drama is being played out to the backdrop of a complex political crisis in South Korea whose democracy was rattled by the impeachment of President Park Geun-Hye and a pending presidential election later this year.

Kim Jong-Un has carried out bloody purges killing at least 340 senior officials in both the party and military. Analysts feel that Kim Jong Nam’s untimely demise in Malaysia was no coincidence and likely linked to his young brother.

Purges focus on power consolidation and thwarting further embarrassing defections.

Seoul’s respected Korea Times stated editorially, “This leaves open the possibility that Pyongyang might unleash provocations at any time, and the North’s nuclear and missile threats are never a bluff.”

Naturally the bigger picture emerges how will Washington react to the brewing crisis?

The Trump Administration has initiated a North Korea policy review. The Wall Street Journal added editorially, “Regardless of how or why Kim Jong-Nam was killed, the U.S. and its allies need plans to handle a Pyongyang palace coup as well as a nuclear assault. ”

The Trump administration’s strategic ambiguity is wise not to announce plans.

As the president said, “I’m not going to tell you what we’ll do with North Korea. They shouldn’t know.”

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]