By Catherine Doolan
While departing Mar-a-Lago the weekend of March 18, U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly accused North Korean leader Kim Jon Un of “acting very, very badly” amid reports of North Korea testing a new long-range rocket engine.
According to ABC, North Korea has recently increased its weapons development in violation of several U.N. Security Council resolutions and in spite of heavy economic sanctions from the international community. President Trump notes that his administration discussed North Korea’s nuclear program during meetings over the weekend. Additionally, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicates moving towards a “tougher strategy” in confronting North Korea.
Clifford D. May, Foundation for Defense of Democracies president and “Washington Times” columnist, is a proponent of tougher U.S. action when taking on North Korea’s nuclear program. According to May, the Bush and Obama Administrations failed to address directly the threat of North Korea’s nuclear development. May claims that though President Bush cited North Korea as a part of the “axis of evil” he failed to mitigate the state’s nuclear capabilities. Additionally, May believes that President Obama’s policy toward North Korea, what Obama termed as “strategic patience,” only negatively delayed U.S. engagement.
During his visit to South Korea last week, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was also critical of President Obama’s policy of “strategic patience,” indicating that U.S. policy towards North Korea must shift away from previous administrations’ lack of referencing military force as a potential strategy.
However, foreign policy analysts fear the outcome of rising tensions between President Trump and Kim. Albert R. Hunt, a Bloomberg View columnist, said the pair could not be “scarier” to the international security community. Hunt further emphasized that dealing with North Korea’s aggression requires “measured patience,” which he believes Trump has dismissed.
Perhaps positively, President Trump’s interest in North Korea also coincides with increased interest in Asia-Pacific nations, which reflects President Obama’s recommendation for a shift of focus from the Middle East towards Asia in U.S. foreign policy. Experts have characterized this shift as a “pivot to Asia.”
So far, President Trump and other cabinet members have met with various officials from Japan, South Korea, and China. In particular, Secretary of Defense James Mattis’ decision to make his first official travel to South Korea and Japan reinforces U.S. prioritization of the Asia-Pacific region and the security ties it maintains within the region, according to CNN.
As North Korea continues to expand its nuclear program, it will be especially crucial that the Trump Administration continue to forge and maintain alliances with other Asia-Pacific nations.