A country firing a few rockets into the ocean may not sound like the most pressing concern, at the moment, but there are many reasons to take this very seriously. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un is a despotic dictator; the Korean War ended in an armistice, so it’s technically not over; and these missiles were almost certainly intended to intimidate, if not directly threaten, South Korea, which is one of our closest allies in the region. This latest missile launch is part of an increasingly troubling trend of weapons developments, tests, and demonstrations by North Korea’s government and there was anticipation that something like this would happen sometime this summer. In spite of all that, the GOP seems to have not noticed, not cared, or been caught off guard.
This incident is a perfect opportunity for current and potential leaders to demonstrate how they want to handle a very real, ongoing threat. So far there appears to be no response to the launch from Republican Party officials or the Republican presidential nominee. And their new platform and previous statements on North Korea are perhaps worse than saying nothing at all.
The Republican Party Platform for 2016 was released this week and mentions the U.S.’s close ties with our allies in the Asia-Pacific region, including South Korea. It goes on to say “we look toward the establishment of human rights for the people of North Korea.” This is a vague statement that leaves it totally unclear what, if anything, the U.S. is willing to do to advance human rights for North Koreans. The most-direct action mentioned in the platform is that the U.S. will continue to demand an end to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which we’ve been doing with basically no success for some time now.
The rest of Republican platform on North Korea is to “urge the government of China to recognize the inevitability of change in the Kim family’s slave state and, for everyone’s safety against nuclear disaster, to hasten positive change on the Korean peninsula.” Basically the Republican plan is to ask China to fix it, which would make sense since China is the only country with an even semi-functional relationship with North Korea, but this plan has serious flaws. For starters, the relationship between North Korea and China has cooled recently and even when it was better, China wasn’t making much progress getting North Korea’s government to curb their destructive domestic and international policies.
Another problem is that, in the very next paragraphs, the GOP platform implies a willingness to go to war with China over Taiwan and gives a long list of criticisms of China’s government and policies. These criticisms are not unjustified, but are also probably not going to make China inclined to heed America’s urging it to address the threat of North Korea on our behalf.
The Republican presidential nominee’s stances on North Korea, not to mention China, are even stranger and more disjointed than the Party’s platform. Trump has made a number of inflammatory statements about China including “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country and that’s what they’re doing,” and also “I beat China all the time.” Not exactly the basis for a solid diplomatic relationship that we could leverage to address the threat from North Korea. However, Trump still seems to think he can get China to take the lead on North Korea, noting in a recent interview that he would “put a lot of pressure on China”. But, in the same interview, he also asserted that he would be willing to talk directly to Kim Jong-un himself. In a January speech Trump said Kim Jong-un was “like a maniac” but also that “you have to give him credit” and “it’s pretty amazing,” in reference to how the young dictator took over and had his uncle and others executed after gaining power.
It’s unclear how the American people are supposed to reconcile the Republican Party’s and Trump’s various statements and ideas. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the North Korean regime actually seems to like at least some of what’s being said. In June, one of the state-controlled North Korean media outlets published a column supporting a Trump presidency. The failure by Trump and the GOP to react to this endorsement from what they themselves describe as a “slave state” or to react to this week’s missile launch seems to suggest that they are committed to a plan of basically ignoring North Korea and hoping China deals with the problem somehow.
Whether or not the Democrats can do better remains to be seen. The White House condemned the launch and at least one Democrat has already taken action to try to limit the danger North Korea poses to the U.S. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii was able to secure $5 million for a new missile defense system in Hawaii to help protect Hawaii and other parts of the Asia-Pacific region. But the Democratic Party and their presidential nominee haven’t released an official statement on the missile launch yet. Fortunately for the Democrats, they still have time before their convention next week to do what the Republicans failed to – show some leadership on this issue and include a comprehensive plan for addressing the threat from North Korea in their party platform.
Alexis Chapman is a Political Consultant and Writer specializing in all types of policy analysis, from international law to local ordinances. She’s lived in Australia, Ghana, Vermont, Hawaii, and Texas and has worked for small and large NGOs, state legislature, industry associations, and a variety of publications. She is a regular contributor to Political Storm.