Powers lining up to oppose US military action against North Korea
The most recent North Korean nuclear test – the detonation of the country's most powerful bomb to date – has ratcheted up tensions between the U.S. and Kim's regime to levels unseen before. The U.S. is now openly threatening the North with "annihilation," and it appears that U.S. forces are in position for a decisive strike.
But over the last 24 hours, China, Russia, and South Korea have all warned the U.S. against taking military action against North Korea. At an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley made it clear that the U.S. patience "had its limits" and that Kim Jong-un is "begging for war."
"Enough is enough. War is never something the United States wants. We don't want it now. But our country's patience is not unlimited," Haley told an emergency session of the 15-member Security Council in New York.
She said that incremental sanctions on North Korea imposed by the Security Council since 2006 had failed to stop Pyongyang's march toward more powerful and dangerous weapons. She said Kim appeared to be "begging for war."
"Despite our efforts the North Korea nuclear program is more advanced and more dangerous than ever," she said.
"We must adopt the strongest possible measures," Haley said.
The U.S. is expected to circulate a draft resolution of unspecified new sanctions for a possible vote of the Security Council next Monday.
Haley pulled no punches in her address to the Security Council. That's been her style since arriving – a refreshing change from the Obama administration.
But her call for new sanctions is falling on deaf ears in Moscow and Beijing.
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Tuesday that ramping up the "military hysteria" around North Korea's escalating nuclear and missile tests could lead to a "global catastrophe."
He also questioned the effectiveness of tightening sanctions, as the U.S. has suggested, saying that they will not change the behavior of Kim Jong Un and his regime.
North Korea "would rather eat grass" than abandon its nuclear program "as long as they do not feel safe," Putin said.
The Russian leader urged dialogue with Pyongyang.
"In this situation pressing on military hysteria will not bring anything, this may end up in a global catastrophe and huge amount of human life lost," Putin told reporters during a visit to China.
His comments came two days after Kim's government detonated its sixth and largest nuclear test.
On Monday, South Korea responded by firing missiles into the sea to simulate an attack on the North with more military drills being held on Tuesday.
Putin also suggested that Kim's government had learned lessons from the U.S. invasion of Iraq that toppled Saddam Hussein, pointing out that after that dictator "abandoned weapons of mass destruction everyone remembers how he ended up. North Korea remembers this too."
North Korea has stated in public statements that it wants an official end to the Korean War — which was halted by a 1953 armistice but no peace treaty has been signed. It also wants nothing short of full normalization of relations with the U.S. and to be treated with respect and as an equal in the global arena.
The use of the word "hysteria" by Putin is a deliberate effort to delegitimize U.S. claims that North Korea's missile and nuclear program represents an existential threat to the United States. I don't think we can count on any support from Russia if the U.S. goes to war with the North Koreans.
Same goes for China, although Beijing may also be reaching the end of it patience with Kim. They warned that China would "never allow chaos and war on the peninsula."
During an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, Liu Jieyi said the situation on the Korean peninsula is "deteriorating constantly" and the issue needs to be resolved "peacefully."
"China will never allow chaos and war on the peninsula," he said.
"The parties concerned must strengthen their sense of urgency, take due responsibilities, play their due roles, take practical measures, make joint efforts together to ease the situation, restart the dialogue and talks and prevent further deterioration of the situation on the peninsula."
His comments come after North Korea claimed it successfully tested a miniaturized hydrogen bomb capable of fitting on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
China may have been "pressing North Korea hard" not to stage a nuclear test, but the Chinese are not willing to do much else to rein in their ally. China opposes sanctions, largely because any sanctions on trade would hurt it the most. It is the North's largest trading partner and if, as has been discussed by U.S. national security officials, the next round of sanctions would hit North Korea's trading partners, it would elicit a likely veto from China at the Security Council.
Meanwhile, South Korea's Moon Jae-in has been calling for direct talks with the North to solve the crisis. Whether deliberate or not, that strategy has angered the U.S. president.
Now, as North Korea carries out a series of provocative missile and nuclear bomb tests, that alliance is straining at a time when both nations may need it more than ever.
President Trump issued a blast of antagonistic comments in the last few days that have made South Koreans doubt that they can take the alliance for granted any longer.
On Twitter on Thursday, he declared that “talking is not the answer!” in dealing with North Korea, casting aside the push by the new South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, to hold talks with the North. On Saturday, he threatened to withdraw the United States from a five-year-old free trade agreement with South Korea over what he considers its unfair protectionistpolicies. And on Sunday, after North Korea detonated its most powerful nuclear device yet, he essentially called the South Koreans appeasers.
”South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!” Mr. Trump said on Twitter.
Indeed, President Moon may be shying away from a military confrontation with the North, but he seems perfectly willing to give Kim exactly what he wants – granting legitimacy to the North Korean regime by recognizing its status as a nuclear power.
Why reward Kim for bringing the world to the brink? Trump is right. Any talks will start from the premise that North Korea's WMD program is legitimate. This means that anytime Kim wants to extract concessions from South Korea or the U.S., he'll test another bomb or shoot off another ICBM. Where will it end?
It may end sooner than we think. South Korea says the North is moving one of its most advanced missiles to the west coast, perhaps preparing for another test launch. At this point, any aggressive move by Kim may lead to a military response by the U.S.