Abraham Denmark, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia under the Obama administration, tweeted, “Despite the rhetoric, it’s still unclear to me that the Trump administration’s approach to [North Korea] is anything new.”
“It seems like the Trump policy will be many of the same things that Obama did, but with greater vigor,” Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation, told the BBC.
It’s still early, of course, and Trump’s approach could very well become more aggressive once his administration finally gets its footing. But when you look at the evidence of what they’ve actually done so far — and not just the rhetoric — it seems Trump is in many ways continuing to approach the North Korea situation along the same lines as his predecessor did.
For instance, last week — on the same day North Korea launched its ballistic missiles — the United States military announced that it had officially begun the deployment of the THAAD anti-ballistic missile defense system in South Korea.
THAAD, which stands for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, is designed to detect and then intercept incoming ballistic missiles in their “terminal” phase — that is, when they’re on the way down, not on the way up. It’s a system that’s already deployed in Guam on an “expeditionary” basis, and is now being deployed in South Korea to protect against any incoming missiles from the North.
The deployment of the THAAD system to South Korea had been in the works for months now, going back to the Obama administration. And despite it being a highly controversial move that has angered China and even some in South Korea, Trump clearly agreed with his predecessor that deploying THAAD was an important part of the strategy to protect the close US ally from any threat from North Korea.
Trump is also continuing the Obama administration’s strategy of pressuring China to be more aggressive in trying to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. On Friday morning, the president tweeted.
As Klingner pointed out, “there are only really so many options with North Korea,” and he noted that “a lot of it is which lane of the road you put greater emphasis on.”
For now, it’s clear that the Trump administration, true to form, plans to put its emphasis on tough talk over diplomatic niceties. It remains to be seen whether that approach will convince North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, himself no stranger to tough talk, that maybe it’s time to rethink his strategy just a bit.