Following a tweet by President Donald Trump, North Korean officials have alleged that the United States declared war on their country. The tweet, in which Trump says North Korea “won’t be around much longer,” has been brushed off by U.S. representatives as posturing. The reality is that Congress has yet to put any declaration in motion and a tweet hardly counts as an executive order. Also, North Korea has a long history of accusing other countries of declaring war when they clearly have not. According to BBC, sanctions imposed by the U.S. in 2016 over human rights abuses were considered a declaration of war by North Korean leadership. However, the tweet itself seems to be only part of the problem. Dismissing North Korea is easy. Their history of human rights abuse and crying wolf about war make it so. It is more difficult to look at the bigger picture. The tweet is only part of what North Korea deems to be aggressive behaviour on the part of the United States.
About three weeks before Trump’s tweet, CNN reported that the United States and South Korea began renegotiating a treaty that limited the latter’s own deterrent capabilities. This was obviously in response to North Korea’s efforts to increase the efficacy of their nuclear program. The revised treaty, which hasn’t been adjusted since 2012, would allow an increase in the payload weight and firing range of South Korean missiles. The U.S. is also selling billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment to South Korea for these new weapons. This is very interesting because South Korea has been calling for levelheadedness; meanwhile, they are increasing the destructive power of their ballistic missiles. With the potential for loss of life increasing, it seems that North Korea may be interpreting a declaration of war from more than just a tweet. While North Korea is far from blameless, the military aid provided to South Korea by the United States seems antagonistic to many. One of the detractors of such behaviour is China, a country that shares a border with North Korea.
President Trump has repeatedly said that China needs to take more of a role in dissuading North Korea from war. A tweet from July 29th this year read, “…they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk. We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!” According to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), China accounts for 90% of North Korean trade volume, giving them an incredible amount of leverage. However, many Chinese believe keeping North Korea in check to be an unfair burden. While China tries to create peace in the Korean peninsula, the United States bolsters the South Korean military and sends out tweets with terrible implications. China doesn’t need any more incentive to create peace. Chinese leaders are constantly weighing the effects of potential war on their people given the country’s proximity to North Korea. The CFR reported that one of the more important effects of any conflict in North Korea would be the refugees flooding to Beijing. The growing fear is that the added population to Beijing would prevent the Chinese government from properly taking care of their own people. While China has threatened to repatriate these refugees, the threat will not stop the refugees from trying to find safety.
An increase in aggression is often thought to be the result of actions taken by one person or group. Finger pointing is easier than assuming some measure of responsibility for a situation or negotiating in good faith to reach a resolution those involved can accept. North and South Korea are increasing their offensive capabilities while China and the U.S. ask each other to do more. Rhetoric and threats will only increase the potential for displaced and harmed citizens, who should be able to rely on their leaders to lead.