North Korea: Can Trump Succeed Where Others Failed?

World

While America remains intently focused on the Republicans’ goal of repealing and replacing Obamacare, it would be foolish to ignore international affairs entirely. As president Donald Trump settles into office, he is facing two global hot spots that threaten to erupt: Syria, which has been embroiled in a bloody civil war since 2011, and North Korea, which continues to make strides in its nuclear strike capabilities. Rex Tillerson, Trump’s new Secretary of State, is heading to Asia this week to shore up relationships with America’s allies in the region- and work on strategies to limit the growth of North Korea’s power.

With an outspoken defense hawk as America’s new president, both friends and opponents will be watching closely as Washington’s North Korea strategy evolves.

North Korea, widely known for its loud blustering, is notorious for lobbing provocations at the West and South Korea. Rarely does a season go by without its young leader, Kim Jong Un, threatening annihilation of its rivals. This year, however, has seen elevated activity in comparison to the usual roller-coaster: Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, defector Kim Jong Nam, was assassinated in Malaysia with a chemical nerve agent, and North Korea successfully fired four ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan.

Both incidents reveal that North Korea is making strides in power projection and strike capability. The assassination indicates that Kim Jong Un is growing bolder at trying to eliminate critics to his regime, even internationally. Thus far, the young dictator has been content to execute alleged opponents at home, ostensibly to consolidate power and eliminate threats to his leadership. Still in his early thirties, Kim Jong Un is one of the world’s youngest heads of state, and only came to prominence in North Korea shortly before his father’s death and his inheritance of power.

Many pundits believe that Kim’s penchant for executing possible rivals, always accused of being enemies of the state, stems from fear and insecurity. Surrounded by experienced military leaders several decades his senior, the young dictator is likely wary of a coup. Having inherited power as part of North Korea’s unique communist monarchy, Kim Jong Un probably worries that he is not respected as a capable leader in his own right. To prove his mettle, he has taken to saber-rattling against his foreign foes and executing those he views as potential rivals.

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