Pressure has been building up against Pyongyang ever since its young leader Kim Jong Un obnoxiously continued with his provocative nuclear and missile tests in complete contravention of the UN Security Council, even ranking his country's historic Chinese partner. Trump had earlier pledged to "get tough" on North Korea and has already deployed the THAAD anti-missile system to South Korea in an effort to supposedly counteract any potential threats, though this has been met with very loud opposition from China and Russia which both claim that it sets a dangerous precedent for undercutting their nuclear second-strike capabilities.
Nevertheless, most serious analysts didn't think that Trump would ever consider striking nuclear-armed North Korea because it was widely presumed that Pyongyang would overreact by retaliating against the tens of thousands of American troops stationed in South Korea and Japan and thus spark a nuclear exchange.
That all changed, however, when Trump ordered the cruise missile strike against Syria, in spite of the Russian military presence inside the country. Moscow's military mandate strictly deals only with anti-terrorist operations, not protecting Syria's armed forces, but Trump's attack was still perceived all across the world as a brazen act of brinksmanship designed to heighten the stakes in the New Cold War. It might not be a coincidence, then, that the naval strike group headed for North Korea shortly thereafter, keeping in mind as well that Trump had just recently concluded his first meeting with Chinese President Xi. Just as the US seems to be putting extra pressure on Russia in Syria, it might also seek to do the same – or at least craft the perception of doing so – towards China in North Korea.
At this point, not a single person knows with any degree of certainty what's really on Trump's mind and what he intends to do, though three potentially interconnected theories prevail at this moment: that he's certifiably crazy, he "cut a deal" with the neoconservative "deep state," and/or he's cleverly applying Nixon's "Madman Theory" to continually keep his foreign adversaries on edge and guessing his next move.
In this episode of Trendstorm we spoke to Hazel Smith, who is Professorial Research Associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.
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