As we go to press the war of words between two apparently unstable heads of government has, once again, been ratcheting up. US President Donald Trump, speaking at the UN, demonstrated an astonishing lack of good sense, threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea. When the North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho described Trump as a “mentally deranged person” on a “suicide mission” Trump tweeted back that Ri and Kim Jong-un “won’t be around much longer”. The undiplomatic exchange resembles a schoolyard shouting match between two little boys. Such foolishness has no place in international relations, especially between the Heads of a nuclear superpower and a country close to acquiring nuclear weapons.
Demonstrating their prowess, US Air Force B-1B bombers flew provocatively close to North Korea’s borders. But, Trump, and it seems from these manoeuvres, the Pentagon do not understand that, regardless of US capabilities, there is no military solution to this conflict. That’s because of the mass of N Korean heavy artillery arrayed along the Demilitarized Zone, ready to rain destruction down on the people of Seoul.
The Peace & Justice Centre has joined in calls for the US to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis. We have called on all parties to refrain from militaristic rhetoric and provocative military exercises; encouraged China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea and the United States to consider the comprehensive approach for a North-East Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone; and encouraged the six countries to turn the 1953 Armistice Agreement into a formal end to the Korean War.
Trump has also suggested that the US will pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has reinforced that stance in meetings with Iran’s Foreign Minister at the UN, arguing that Iran has not complied with the spirit of the agreement and that the agreement is not permanent. Yet Trump certified that Iran was in compliance, and the administration admits the agreement ensures that Iran will not be able to develop a nuclear weapon during the lifetime of the agreement. For the US to withdraw would create a second nuclear crisis. Iran would very likely restart its nuclear programme and would soon have the capability to reach Israel with a nuclear weapon. Most mainstream arms control advocates and former national security advisers agree abandoning this agreement would be a foolish move.
Instead of threatening N Korea and talking about ending the Iran agreement the US should take its nuclear forces off hair trigger alert and join the more than 50 countries that have now signed the Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons. By doing so, it could signal to Iran, N Korea and any other would be nuclear powers that nuclear weapons cannot provide the basis for security and lead the way to a world free of the imminent threat of a nuclear holocaust.