May 29, 2018

With Or Without The North Korea Summit, Trump’s ‘Maximize Pressure’ Campaign Will Go On

President Trump and North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un look to be on-and-off regarding a potential June 12 meeting. This uncertainty comes after North Korea renewed threats of a nuclear showdown between the two parties.

While the world waits to see if the historic summit will occur, the pressure on Kim remains in full throttle. Until North Korea agrees to completely denuclearize, Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign will go on. Americans can rest assured that North Korea summit or not – this administration won’t let Kim gain leverage, and all options remain on the table.

Prior to the Trump administration, American policy towards North Korea could be defined as appeasement. Three past presidents from both political parties failed to constrain North Korea’s growing threat to the United States and the international community.

Most notably, President Obama adopted a mantra of “strategic patience” towards the regime. Strategic patience meant little more than Obama’s top advisors putting their hands over their eyes and their fingers in their ears hoping the Kim regime would collapse through its own woes.

This strategy proved catastrophic.  

Kim isn’t the fanatic loon as some enjoy portraying him. Kim Jong Un and his family have done an excellent job maintaining power through propaganda, brute force, and manipulation while racing to achieve their ultimate security token, a nuclear weapon. North Korea has shown it has no qualms starving and torturing its own people to make this a reality.

Likely emboldened by Obama’s failure to enforce his own “red line” in Syria, to let Russia go virtually unpunished for its annexation of Crimea, and to allow Iran’s spread of terrorism to go unchecked, Kim assumed the previous administration wouldn’t take serious steps to constrain his ability to acquire a nuclear weapon.

And he was correct. Under Kim’s leadership, North Korea worked to perfect its nuclear capabilities and rapidly expand its intercontinental ballistic missile program. The doomsday clock inched closer to midnight. The United States was unwilling to confront Kim.

But with President Trump, North Korea has discovered that America will no longer practice strategic patience.

Trump has made blasting Kim and his regime a near weekly exercise. “No regime has oppressed its own citizens more totally or brutally than the cruel dictatorship in North Korea,” noted the president during his State of the Union address.

Extensive sanctions dry the regime’s funding of military activities and kickbacks for its cronies. Entities that conduct illegal business with the regime have been punished severely.

America has also worked to bolster our allies’ defense capabilities. Expansive military exercises between South Korea, Japan, and the United States have been frequent. THAAD, the most advanced missile interceptor in the world, has been installed in South Korea. The system could save countless lives if a major conflict were ever to break out.

In contrast to previous administrations, Trump and his advisors recognize that economic pressure and reinforcing our allies may not be enough. A limited military strike, known as a “bloody nose strike,” has been left on the table for consideration. National Security Advisor John Bolton and the president understand that force may be the only way to curtail Kim’s ambitions.

And Kim knows Trump isn’t one to bluff about deploying America’s might. Trump enforced his own “red line” in Syria by twice striking key positions of Syrian President Bashar Assad after the regime used chemical weapons. Pyongyang also received the message loud and clear.

Kim and his advisors have been forced to rethink North Korea’s long-term strategy. The state remains isolated as ever from the international community and the strongman knows how disastrous a strike against his regime could be.

This is largely why the June 12 summit was planned — Kim was caving in from the maximum pressure campaign. Sadly, North Korea may have reverted to its old ways and the June 12 summit is up in the air.

Trump and his advisors expected a setback like this might occur. Therefore, no concessions were made to the regime and America’s leverage remains intact. Severe economic sanctions will be enforced, the military option remains on the table, and America is working in tangent with its allies to put pressure on Kim.

Only time will tell if a future meeting between the two leaders is in store, but that’s a fine scenario for the United States. The administration’s goal has always been full and verified denuclearization of the Korean peninsula not a face-to-face sit-down with Kim.

In the meantime, the administration’s campaign will stay the course. Surrender is not an option. Kim will be forced to the negotiating table or fear his regime may crumble. Expect the maximum pressure campaign to go on.

-- Alex Titus, Policy Advisor for America First Policies

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