Well how about that?
North Korea has reopened a vital line of communication with South Korea, raising hopes of a diplomatic thaw days after Kim Jong-un said he would consider sending his country’s athletes to next month’s Winter Olympics, to be held just south of the border.
Hours after Donald Trump again baited the North Korean leader on Twitter – this time with a boast about the size and efficacy of his nuclear button – Pyongyang said it would reactivate a telephone hotline at the truce village of Panmunjom at 6.30am GMT on Wednesday.
For those of us who have managed to avoid going into meltdown, this isn’t tremendously surprising. The North Koreans have turned sabre-rattling into a fine art, threatening its neighbours whenever its economy is nosediving and it needs more foreign aid, or it senses a weakness in the loose coalition of countries against it, primarily the USA. With George Bush tied up with the War on Terror and Barack Obama being piss-weak, the last 15 years have been relatively unworrisome for the North Koreans, giving them the opportunity to develop the nuclear weapons they are now waving around. There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that were the US to show weakness and lack of resolve at this point, the weapons development would increase in parallel with the rhetoric as the regime sought to extract maximum concessions from its neighbours.
This is why I don’t think Trump had much choice other than to state clearly that any nuclear attack by North Korea would result in a massive retaliatory strike that would annihilate his regime and half his people. After 15 years of permissiveness and dithering, it was time for some stiffness and resolve. Now there may be much to criticise in Trump using Twitter to convey this message, but I am certain the normal diplomatic channels are conveying the same sentiment. That said, Trump’s tweeting might also serve another purpose: it shows very publicly that he is serious, without his words being filtered into vague guff by some state-department press-release full of generic words like “concern” and “unacceptable” and “consequences”. A politician broadcasting exactly what he thinks is not a bad thing in a world where it’s hard to know what a politician thinks even after a lengthy career in office.
So Kim Jong Un has done the only sensible thing left open to him: back down. We’ll have to wait and see whether this is the start of a new era of North Korea being relatively benign, but I’m hoping it is. If so, we can be sure everyone will line up to say this is despite Trump’s bellicose approach, not because of it.
This is why I made this rather smart-arse comment on Twitter this morning:
I suppose Trump could respond to North Korean nuclear threats like the Dutch government did to the shooting down of MH-17.
— Tim Newman (@whitesundesert) January 5, 2018
I don’t know whether those wringing their hands are simply virtue-signalling, jumping on the anti-Trump bandwagon to show how sophisticated they are, or if they genuinely believe the self-serving appeasement adopted by Western leaders since the end of the Cold War will keep them safe. Either way, I’m rather glad such people are uncomfortable. It’s about time they were.