Rocket Man’s Eventful Summer

The summer news cycle is often dull and slow, yet this summer, the constant flow of breaking news was difficult to even keep up with. The striking rise in news was largely due to the increased efforts by North Korea to make a statement of force to the rest of the world.  North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un has kept Western society on its toes these past months, but Americans are not quite sure how to feel about the increased threats. To gain an understanding of the entire threat North Korea has over the United States of America, the conflict must be studied from the beginning of the summer.

On May 14th, North Korea fired a ballistic missile that landed just off the coast of Russia. This was the first militaristic act made by North Korea since President Moon Jae-in took office as President of South Korea on May 10th. This primary launch was accompanied in the following weeks by two more short range ballistic missile launch tests on May 21st and May 29th. These test missiles landed closer to Japan, which had the repercussion of further destabilizing the region.

To make a statement of force in retaliation to these missile tests by North Korea, the United Nations Security Council voted on June 2nd to create new sanctions against North Korea. These sanctions were specifically put in place to target and limit Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs. The unanimously decided sanctions condemned the proliferation of missile attacks, and continued a travel-ban and asset freeze for prominent North Korean officials and groups that work for the nuclear development initiative. In a statement to her UN counterparts, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said “The security council is sending a clear message to North Korea today — stop firing ballistic missiles or face the consequences.”

Japan’s Ambassador Koro Bessho, left, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, center, and South Korea’s Ambassador Cho Tae-yul hold a joint news conference after consultations of the United Nations Security Council, Wednesday, March 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

However, these strong words and increased sanctions had no impact on Kim Jong-un’s quest. Just a week later on June 8th, North Korea fired four anti-ship missiles off of the east coast of the Korean peninsula. This rash move posed an immediate threat to South Korea and the allies in the water surrounding the region. To combat this act, on June 30th, American military officials created an altered strategy to handle the situation in North Korea to give President Trump if the situation escalated.  

Less than a week later, on American Independence Day, a day of American celebration and patriotism, Pyongyang made a statement claiming that they had conducted a successful nuclear-capable Inter Continental Ballistic Missile test. They also claimed in this report that the ICBM could reach “anywhere in the world,” and had the strong likelihood of being able to reach Alaska. In immediate response to this threat, joint US and South Korean forces held a missile drill. This test was designed to show the strength of the American and South Korean missile programs. After a few weeks, Kim Jong-un responded to the joint operations with another ICBM launch on July 28th. Based on the missile’s trajectory and strength, experts believe that if it had laid flatter, than it could hit the US mainland, including population centers of Los Angeles, Denver, and Chicago. The United States and South Korea responded with several more live-fire drills and stealth bomber attack drills over North Korea.

On August 9th, the most severe threat came from North Korea when they announced they would launch a ballistic missile to reach the US territory of Guam. This threat was not taken lightly by US leaders, as Guam is a strategic location in the Pacific ocean, and holds a joint Naval-Air Force base. Although the Guam threat was never carried out, several weeks later, on August 29th, North Korea launched a Hwasong 12 missile over Japan, sending the nation into high alert. There were no fatalities from the launch, as it later plunged into the Pacific ocean.

On September 3rd, in an attempt to bolster their nuclear program, North Korea announced they had created a Hydrogen bomb and had tested their nuclear weapons in an underground testing facility. This was confirmed due to the seismic reaction that could be felt through the Korean Peninsula and the rest of the region. On September 15th, North Korea fired a longer range missile over Japan. This, again, caused widespread panic as it passed over the American ally.

Throughout the summer, President Trump was not hesitant to stand up to North Korea. Through many tweets and impromptu speeches, he continually emphasized the strength of the American military and their readiness to combat any serious threat of eminent danger. In a tweet last Sunday, President Trump wrote:

“I spoke with President Moon of South Korea last night. Asked him how Rocket Man is doing. Long gas lines forming in North Korea. Too bad!”

I spoke with President Moon of South Korea last night. Asked him how Rocket Man is doing. Long gas lines forming in North Korea. Too bad!

— Donald Trump

This tweet sent several messages. First, that America is strong in our commitment to South Korea. Second, by the demeaning of Kim Jong-un to be a “rocket man”, POTUS is telling Americans, and North Korea, that the US is not taking the threats too seriously. And finally, based on the President’s observation of long gas lines in North Korea, the sanctions imposed by the United Nations have had an effect in destabilizing North Korea.

This brings us to Tuesday, when President Trump made his much anticipated speech to the United Nations General Assembly. In his speech, President Trump again referred to Kim Jong-un by the juvenile undertoned reference “Rocket Man.” While speaking on the topic of UN and US action towards North Korean aggression President Trump said, “The U.S. has great strength and patience but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” He then went on to call out to nations who continue to do business with Pyongyang, saying, “It is an outrage that some nations would not only trade with such a regime — but arm, supply and financially support a regime that imperils the world with nuclear conflict.” This statement was most likely directed at China, who although voting for the increased sanctions, has been slow to implement the change in policy.

As the summer comes to a close and Americans reflect on the Cold-War like tension that dominated the news cycle, Americans are beginning to wonder how serious the threats are. This summer was filled with threats and tests, but that’s all it was- threats and tests. The sanctions put in place by the UN and an increased presence of US forces in the region have been able to destabilize the regime enough to keep any attacks at bay. With the President of the United States treating Kim Jong-un as a joke, why should Americans worry about our safety? Yes, this nuclear build-up by North Korea has the capability to be devastating, but at the moment everything has been an empty threat. As the sanctions and efforts to halt the proliferation of nuclear build-up by North Korea continue, it will likely cause panic within the extremely isolated and freedomless nation. The escalation of tensions made by Kim Jong-un could likely lessen him in the eyes of his people as they continue to run out of food and basic necessities, bringing the conflict, and his rule, to an end.