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Trump’s fiery, furious threats to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea might just work

President Donald Trump (U.S. Army/Elizabeth Fraser)

President Donald Trump’s bold approach to North Korea has horrified many and raised the issue of nuclear war into everyday conversation, but the unconventional tactic may work in a roundabout way, an expert on US-China relations and North Korea says.

Trump’s fiery rhetoric and the administration’s decision to make North Korea its top national security priority have “changed the momentum” on the issue, Yun Sun, a senior associate at the Stimson Center, a Washington, DC-based think tank, told Business Insider.

In recent months, North Korea has shocked the world by demonstrating that it’s most likely just a few months from developing a nuclear-equipped intercontinental ballistic missile.

President Donald Trump has responded to North Korea with escalating rhetoric, saying in August that the US would respond to further North Korean threats with “fire and fury.” Last month, he stood in front of the United Nations and threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if necessary. He has leaned more heavily on the prospect of military action than any of his recent predecessors.

While North Korea has yet to halt its nuclear program, Trump’s rebukes of the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, and the president’s open flirtation with nuclear war appear to have pushed the international community toward action.

“If the criteria is North Korea stops its nuclear program, the data so far suggests that North Korea has not been stopped by real or rhetorical threats,” Sun said.

But if the criteria is to get China, North Korea’s treaty ally and the nation responsible for 90% of its trade, to stop backing Pyongyang, Trump’s threats have “worked and potentially could ‘work’ more,” Sun said.

“No matter how much people don’t like him, he has extracted more cooperation out of China than any of his predecessors on North Korea,” Sun said of Trump.

So even though North Korea is unlikely to be frightened by Trump’s sometimes obvious bluster, the intended audience for the threats may not be Kim.

Several countries have cut or curbed ties with North Korea in recent weeks as the Trump administration has stepped up its approach toward Kim, The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

Over the past 25 years, the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations attempted to curb North Korea’s nuclear program through a mix of sanctions, diplomacy, and aid dollars to feed the sometimes starving nation.

Despite these efforts, North Korea has continued its provocations and missile tests, culminating this year in two intercontinental-ballistic-missile launches, two missile launches over Japan, and its most powerful nuclear test yet.

At best, previous administrations slowed North Korea’s nuclear progress but failed to stop it. At the same time, Trump’s threats and bluster appear to have whipped up a kind of urgency that UN sanctions and condemnations and previous administrations’ diplomacy failed to do.

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