“When I was in Pyongyang, I was with some foreign ministry officials whose job it is, is to read Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, listen to his speeches, try to analyze the American government. And what they said was, ‘Frankly, we’re mystified,” said Evan Osnos, a New Yorker staff writer who traveled to North Korea on assignment for the magazine.
“We can’t figure out if he is, as they put it, irrational or whether he’s proceeding down a subtle strategy that’s leading them to an objective. So, when we send mixed messages, when we send confusing messages, they’re not quite sure what to make of it,” Osnos added.
Michael Morell, former acting and deputy director of the CIA, echoed the idea that mixed messages and threats without follow-through are damaging to any hopes of diplomacy. “You’ve lost a tremendous amount of credibility and I think that the language in that respect is dangerous,” Morell said.
North Korea and Kim Jon Un’s endgame, Osnos said, is to avoid becoming vulnerable to American pressure. “If you ask people in Pyongyang, really cut through what it is that they’re trying to achieve, the thing they return to over and over again, is they want to avoid being Saddam Hussein or Muammar Qaddafi,” Osnos said.
In addition to using nuclear capability as a way to secure themselves from attack, Morell added that there is a possibility they want to use them to become more dominant on the Korean Peninsula. “Does he want these weapons to try to coerce the United States in South Korea? So in other words, once he has them, will he be more aggressive on the Korean Peninsula? The question is how do you deter that, and that’s more difficult,” Morell said.