Trump must stop lashing out at allies if he wants to rein in North Korea

Time reports: Following North Korea’s sixth nuclear test on Sunday morning, which triggered a 5.7 magnitude tremor that shook buildings as far away as northeastern China, the world rounded on the pariah state with unified opprobrium.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the test “absolutely unacceptable,” while China’s Foreign Ministry “strongly condemned” it. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull denounced Kim Jong Un’s “cruel and evil dictatorship.” Russia urged “all interested parties to immediately return to dialogue and negotiations as the only possible way for an overall settlement of the problems of the Korean peninsula.”

Donald Trump also joined the chorus, tweeting that North Korea’s “words and actions continue to be very hostile and dangerous to the United States.” But then the U.S. President immediately turned on Washington’s closest regional ally, not to mention the frontline state in any possible conflict: “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!” he tweeted.

Trump’s outburst is hard to read given that South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Friday agreed to ramp up hosting of the U.S. THAAD anti-missile batteries following North Korea’s latest ballistic missile launches. After Sunday’s estimated 120 kiloton nuclear test, which the regime claimed was a missile-ready hydrogen bomb, that deployment is poised to be ratified domestically. Although Moon was indeed elected in May upon promises to put THAAD under review, and urging dialogue with the North, Trump’s charge of appeasement is hard to justify. As such, the tweet was another of Trump’s capricious utterances on social media that put allies as well as enemies on edge.

“You’ve got this massive crisis and the President of the United States is basically undermining the alliance,” says Prof. Stephan Haggard, a Korea expert at the UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy. “It’s appalling. Rather that standing in solidarity with Moon Jae-in he’s badmouthing him.” [Continue reading…]

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