Potential 2020 Flashpoints: North Korea


North Korea is a flashpoint threatening to burst even before 2020 is upon us. December has seen the tension in northeast Asia ratchet up amid vague North Korean threats and Trump administration assurances that it will contend with any North Korean ‘Christmas Gift’ decisively. Just one week remains until the North Korea-imposed end of the year deadline for the US to make concessions and revive the stalled nuclear talks takes effect. There has been widespread speculation concerning what action North Korea could take if the deadline passes without US concessions.

The greatest concern in Washington is that North Korea’s ‘Christmas Gift’ winds up being a provocative action that demands a swift, decisive US response. A long-range missile test is a perfect example of something that would leave the US no choice but to take action. Testing a missile with enough range to reach US territory is a red line. Should it be crossed by Kim Jong Un, the end result will almost certainly be a US military response of some sort.

North Korea’s ultimate goal is to persuade the United States to roll back the economic sanctions now in place while maintaining its status as a nuclear power. Where the US has sought to inextricably link sanction relief and denuclearization, North Korea has gone to extremes to keep them separate. There are signs of internal political pressure starting to build on the Pyongyang regime, and this could be one of the factors prompting Kim to adopt a hardline status. Contrary to some of the inaccurate assessments of the North Korean leader by a number of talking-heads in the media, Kim Jong Un is undoubtedly playing the role of a rational actor in this drama. His overall strategy has been predicated on regime survival and maintaining his position as supreme leader.

As it stands right now on this Christmas Day, North Korea’s vague threats are intended to keep the world guessing for at least another week. This is a topic that will undoubtedly be written about frequently in the coming days so I’m going to end it here for the moment.

Merry Christmas to everyone! 😊

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