The Washington Post tells us that experts at Stanford University chart the degree of risk of war with North Korea, as they perceive it, on a color-coded chart. Bright red indicates high risk.
When Barack Obama left office, eight out of 11 boxes were bright red. When President Trump started calling North Korea’s dictator “Little Rocket Man,” the number of such boxes increased to nine.
Now, with the diplomatic relations between the U.S. and North Korea established and missile testing suspended, the chart looks very different. The Post doesn’t say how many boxes are bright red, but its report makes it clear few, if any, are.
I don’t know how sound these assessments are, but the view that Trump has reduced the risk of war with North Korea is held by other leading experts, too. The Post quotes Joel Witt, who was involved in negotiations with North Korea while at the State Department. He says, “I am not a Trump supporter on 99 percent of what he does, but strangely enough, his instincts have been right about North Korea.”
Joseph Yun, who served as the U.S. special representative to North Korea for a period that included portions of the Obama and Trump presidencies, says “there is no talk of war, so everyone is supportive of engagement with North Korea — political, diplomatic, and economic engagement.” Yun goes on to say, however, that our engagement with North Korea has not yet made a difference in terms of North Korean nuclear development.
Actually, the absence of testing may be making a difference at the margin, but Yun’s basic point is correct. Trump’s initiatives have not yet caused North Korea to denuclearize and full denuclearization may not be in the cards.
But simply by establishing relations with Kim, Trump has reduced the risk of war. Even if the threat of nuclear war cannot be eliminated, it can be managed, as we have been able to do with other hostile nuclear powers. The prospect of war due to miscalculation of the other side’s intentions — a common cause of war — has been reduced.
The Post tells us that those “with deeper knowledge of North Korea” than his politically motivated critics say that Trump’s approach is the best game in town. They are right, I think, and President Trump deserves credit for figuring this out.