The nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran have longed attracted negative US attention. The US has, in general, responded to these two budding, very distant threats by campaigning for international sanctions before attempting to utilize diplomatic options. The threats of both North Korea and Iran have largely been threats for US regional partners in the Middle East and Asia, so the American People have felt comfortable enough to allow US leaders to impose sanctions and negotiate settlements. North Korea’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile most likely capable of hitting the US mainland is, however, quickly making North Korea an imminent threat to the US and changing the threat assessment of the American People.
When it comes to the use of military force against North Korea and Iran, more traditional US Presidents have been unwilling to risk armed conflict with the powerful militaries of these two nations and their allies despite public backlash. Going to war with North Korea, or even Iran, would be very costly for the US military and likely cause far-reaching devastation. This is why the US and its allies have opted to engage in a delicately balanced “dance” with the likes of North Korea and Iran. Donald Trump is not, however, a traditional political leader. He is someone willing to defy what is expected, because he was never groomed by a career in politics to behave as a political leader while he has never been someone who carefully considers the consequences of his words and actions.
With that in mind, there are those who see the nuclearization of countries like North Korean and Iran as a constructive means to balance US power. To these individual, the threat from North Korea and Iran is nothing compared to that posed by the US. Although it is true the magnitude of any threat posed by US military might overshadows the threat posed by any one military power, the size of the threat is irrelevant. The question is what governments plan to do with their nuclear arsenals. The fear of North Korea and Iran is not that these nations have nuclear weapons. It is that they will use their nuclear weapons on others or use the threat of nuclear retaliation to act with impunity. The US learned its lesson is Japan, which is partially why it invests so heavily in a traditional military.
Given the oppression of their own People, the imperialistic ambitions of leadership within these nations would be a terribly frightening scenario. The nuclear impunity given to the United States has allowed the US government to act around the globe without considering the consequences of its actions. If the US was not democratic and beholden to its People, the US would be a far less benevolent empire. If the Soviet Union had endured, the nuclear impunity it enjoyed would have allowed it to continues its reign of terror over its sphere of influence. If China ever grows strong enough to balance the military might of the US and its allies, it too will be able to use it nuclear impunity to act within a sphere of influence unopposed.
Nuclear weapons allow powers to consolidate and secure their power from outside threats as well as internal threats, i.e. dissent and democracy. Already tyrannical governments become nearly impossible to overthrow when they are able to acquire nuclear weapons and nuclear immunity. North Korea and Iran have not attacked the US or its allies, but their ability to do so and act with impunity, because they have a nuclear option, is unacceptable to the United States and its allies. It is also dangerous for the world. The US already finds itself squaring off with Russia and China over fairly routine disputes while India, Pakistan, and China are perpetually on the verge of war. These conflicts between nuclear powers threaten the world should they escalate to armed conflict. Adding a nuclear North Korea and nuclear Iran into the mix is only going to make matters worse.
Russia under the leadership of Vladimir Putin did not expect Donald Trump to bomb its ally in Syria over the use of chemical weapons. Moscow also did not expect Trump to approve sanctions against Russia, which is why the Putin government responded in such a disproportionate way. Lacking any clear options other than military intervention, Trump is criticizing China and Russia for their failures to address the threat of North Korea. He is leaning on China and Russia in order to push them to act on behalf of the US. When tensions with Iran have reached such a point in the past, US ally Israel has launched airstrikes against Iranian nuclear infrastructure, which, ironically, eased the situation. The US has no such ally willing to risk such a course of action in Asia. The question for China and Russia is, therefore, what will Trump do in the face of increasing pressure with only one option.
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