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War of the Words: North Korea, Trump, and Strategic Stability

Published by War on the Rocks

By Vipin Narang and Ankit Panda

North Korea continues to dominate the Trump administration’s energies on foreign policy, and matters do not appear to be improving anytime soon. Recent events have illustrated that even as the strategic situation worsens with North Korea’s steady march toward an operational nuclear strike capability against the U.S. homeland, the potential for a serious nuclear crisis lies just a few words away.

Last week, the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed resolution 2371 imposing a basket of new sanctions on North Korea after its two tests of the Hwasong-14 (KN20), its first missile capable of reaching the continental United States. North Korea responded by threatening “retaliation thousands of times” over and bluntly declaring to the United States that it should not believe “its land is safe across the ocean,” an obvious reference to its increasing ability to target the American homeland with an intercontinental-range ballistic missile (ICBM). In the four days since the passage of the sanctions, the United States has entered uncharted waters, culminating in a direct threat from President Donald Trump. The president’s words either signified his real intent, committing the United States to taking military action against North Korea — which risks nuclear escalation — or they were mere bluster, which undermines America’s efforts to reassure its East Asian allies of U.S. extended deterrence commitments.

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