The war of words between North Korea and the United states reached new heights last week. US President trump pledged to meet any further threats by North Korea to the US “with fire and fury like the world has never seen”. North Korea’s response was a threat to vaporize Guam, a US colony and important military base in the Pacific.
Such an escalation of rhetoric carries its own risks, including miscalculations by either side that could rapidly lead to a shooting war. In such a situation what is needed is a period of clam reflection, especially by the American President, and the use of diplomacy rather than military action. For all Kim Jong Un’s faults, his position is at least grounded in a knowledge of past American actions toward North Korea, and an overwhelming desire to preserve the Kim regime. There is no such certainty with the American leader or his country’s policies.
Since 1945, when the Americans following the defeat of Japan arbitrarily divided Korea at the 38th Parallel, the peninsula has been bedeviled by constant tension, including a devastating war in the early 1950s that killed more than 2 million North Koreans (20% of its population) and destroyed cities, towns and villages, as well as their infrastructure.
That war never formally ended. An important step toward reducing tensions would be a commitment by both sides to seriously negotiate a peace treaty. Post war history is not encouraging in that regard.