Reason Wafawarova Correspondent
Donald Trump did not surprise with his UN General Assemble speech. He pleased his supporters and disappointed many in the process, as has become the norm with the self-styled US leader.
Trump cares very little about political correctness, diplomacy or courtesy, and that is just his trademark. He enjoys frankness and does not care much about controversy.
He blatantly threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea, described the Venezuelan leader as a “corrupt dictatorship,” whose “chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos.” He also labelled the Iranian government a “murderous regime”.
He described the Iran nuclear deal signed by Barack Obama as “an embarrassment to the United States” and threatened to pull out of it. He went on to threaten military action against Venezuela, bragging that the United States has troops all over the world, and it would not be a problem to invade “our neighbour.”
Someone in the audience was spotted holding his head as Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea, and someone else was spotted folding her arms in discomfort. Such reactions are not uncommon when Donald Trump speaks, and clearly it did not change because this was a UN platform. A cringing audience is usually part of any Trump speech, and clearly Trump enjoys it.
But Trump’s threat against Pyongyang could just serve to justify North Korea’s perceived need for nuclear deterrence, at the same time rendering support for increased sanctions and possible military action against North Korea unjustifiable at the least, or a breach of international peace laws at worst.
Annihilating sovereign states because one does not agree with who rules them is a blatant violation of international law, and this is the message Trump’s speech seemed to be carrying as far as many neutral observers are concerned.
Its ironic that Trump opened his speech by encouraging sovereignty and pursuit of national interests by individual UN member-states, yet he wants to annihilate a country for doing exactly that in the interest of its own security.
Some regional security analysts in Asia have expressed grave concern after the Trump speech.
There is very little publicity on the ongoing dramatic joint military drills being carried by the US and South Korea in the Korean peninsula, right at the doorstep of North Korea’s southern border. Some have argued that the continued aerial missile tests by North Korea are partly a retaliatory gimmick to counter the dramatic running up and down the peninsula by South Korean military personnel and US soldiers.
The whole thing is just a childishly ludicrous show off force that could be avoided. This view would buttress the argument that North Korea is only after a deterrent nuclear weapon, not one for offensive attacks on innocent people in other nations.
In fact, North Koreans have argued that after what happened to Muammar Gaddafi, it would be foolish for them not be nuclear armed. The mocking of the North Korean leader by Trump as a “Rocket Man” on a suicide mission has been criticised as “juvenile” by others; and certainly it did not help the route towards a diplomatic solution to the Korean crisis.
When Donald Trump added that North Korea’s “reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles threatens the entire world with unthinkable loss of human life,” he was not saying North Korea would be invoking or enforcing the “unthinkable loss of human life”.
He was essentially bragging that under him the US would celebrate the idea of repeating another Hiroshima and Nagasaki; this time on North Korean soil. Sweden is renowned for its neutrality in international politics, but the Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom had to break this tradition after she was shell shocked by Trump’s speech, which she described as “the wrong speech, at the wrong time, to the wrong audience.”
She added: “This was a bombastic, nationalist speech. It must have been decades since one last heard a speech like that in the UN General Assembly.” However, Israeli Prime Minister Banjamin Netanyahu was, as expected, overly impressed with the Trump rhetoric. He said, “In over 30 years in my experience with the UN, I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech.” No doubt Trump is a recklessly courageous and bold politician, and it’s not a surprise Netanyahu is impressed. The Iranian Foreign Minister was clearly unimpressed, accusing Donald Trump of feigning empathy for Iranians. This is what he said:
“Trump’s ignorant hate speech belongs in medieval times — not the 21st Century UN — unworthy of a reply. Fake empathy for Iranians fools no one.” He added Trump was nothing more than a “rogue newcomer” to the United Nations General Assembly. Trump did say he hoped military action wouldn’t be necessary, but the Russian foreign minister accused him of contradicting himself. It is hard to understand how someone can threaten “unthinkable loss of human life” and still preach diplomacy in the same breath. But again Trump has zero reputation in the diplomacy word, and he is frankly proud of it.
The Japanese issued a statement commending Trump for “taking a strong stance against North Korea provocation,” but called for “cooperation by the international community.” The Moon Jae-in government in South Korea downplayed Trump’s confrontational speech for obvious reasons. The last thing they want is to anger North Koreans any more than they have already done.
The North Korean Ambassador to the United Nations was unamused. He charged: “If he was thinking he could scare us with the sound of dog barking, that’s really a dog dream.”
Equally undeterred, the Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza retorted to the attacks on his government:
“No leader can come and question our democracy, can come and question our sovereignty. We do not accept threats from President Trump or whoever in this world.” His leader Nicolas Maduro added that Trump was “the new Hitler of international politics.” The Russians were unimpressed, and the Chinese described the speech as “incorrect,” and this makes the North Korea nuclear crisis a lot more problematic, especially for those interested in a peaceful solution, and those particularly hopeful on the role of China on the matter.
Obviously many of the Trump supporters love the man’s tough rhetoric, but it is just going to be harder to pursue a diplomatic path towards the resolving of this crisis, for as long as Trump continues on the path of pleasing himself by listening to his own voice.
Northeast Asia analyst Marcus Noland, with the Peterson Institute for International Economics, wrote a blog post Tuesday saying from the North Korean perspective, Trump’s speech reinforces the country’s need for nuclear weapons to defend itself against and “existential threat by hostile foreign forces led by the US. With those words, President Trump handed the Kim regime the soundbite of the century. It will play on a continuous loop on North Korean national television.”
It is difficult to imagine what Trump sought to achieve by threatening a whole country with total annihilation. Did he really expect to have a lot of admirers from the international community?
It is on record that South Koreans are roundly opposed to the idea of anyone threatening to annihilate their northern neighbours, and not many Asians would fancy such an initiative as a brilliant and noble idea.
Carla Anne Robbins, a professor of national security studies at Baruch College said she “cringed” when she heard Trump refer to the North Korea leader as “rocket man” and complained that the confrontational tone of the speech would not convince sceptical nations like China and Russia to support further sanctions on North Korea, nor will it make the case amongst allies for military action.
Now the credibility of any diplomatic initiative has been drastically threatened, and the relations of the US and its allies in the Far East are going to be a lot more problematic. Not many of these allies would be too willing to be seen to be taking risks and making sacrifices in pursuit of the goals of such a leader as Donald Trump.
Stewart Patrick with the Council on Foreign Relations called Trump’s threat against North Korea a “juvenile tweak” that risks “undermining the credibility of the US.”
Someone should have advised Trump to spare his reservations about the Iran nuclear deal for another forum. After labelling the deal “an embarrassment,” and blatantly threatening to pull out of it, who is going to expect North Korea to ever trust the seriousness of the US and its allies in matters related to diplomatic negotiations?
There s simply no more prospect of North Korea reversing, discontinuing or abandoning its nuclear programme. The only pragmatic route left for Donald Trump and all of us is to accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state, and perhaps to start treating it as such.
There is no evidence whatsoever to show that North Korea intends to use the nuclear weapon for any other reasons apart from deterring a military attack on its soil. Of course the regime has in the past threatened attacks on US allies, if and when attacked itself.
Essentially that is the whole idea behind having nuclear weapons anyway — to make your enemies aware of the deadly consequences should they ever decide to take a military route against you. That was the exact threat Trump was making before an audience of 194 world leaders.
But to imagine that North Korea itself is not deterred by US military and nuclear strength would be foolish. Pyongyang is clear of the devastating aftermath of a nuclear attack from the United States, and would never do anything stupid enough to justify such a reaction against its people – like waking up one morning nuking Northern Australia.
That would be just suicidal as Trump implied, and many analysts have simply ruled out the possibility of a non-retaliatory attack from North Korea. The Koreans have never been associated with imperial adventurism.
North Korea currently reserves its nuclear power specifically for a crisis situation where they cannot just be subdued before causing devastating harm to the enemy, like what happened when NATO invaded Libya. There is just no way North Korea would ever win a nuclear war against the United States and its allies, except in the unlikely event of a world war pitting the Russians and the Chinese alongside the North Koreans and others.
Even such a war would never realistically produce a winner. It would be a war where everyone loses – and loses heavily too. Meanwhile the Russians were overly impressed by Trump’s promise that the US would “not impose its way on others,” and many countries must have welcomed the rhetoric, not least countries like Zimbabwe and Syria — both smitten by US sanction laws — SDERA and ZDERA respectively; ostensibly Democracy Recovery Acts enacted by the US Senate on behalf of the peoples of the two countries. And African leaders were frankly told by Donald Trump that his friends had invested in Africa “to become rich”. Everyone seems shocked.
But Trump is not the conventional pretentious politician who would hide behind humanitarian causes to rip you off. He is a frank man who will tell you he is ripping you off because you allow him to, and that is exactly the message he was sending to our attentive leaders who attended his dinner, or whatever it is he did for them. Africa we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death!!
Reason Wafawarova is a political writer based in SYDENEY, Australia