In just the past week, North Korea has unveiled a brand new submarine that could potentially launch nuclear weapons and tested two short-range missiles that gravely threaten US allies South Korea and Japan.
The casual observer could understandably expect President Donald “fire and fury” Trump and his hawkish administration to respond forcefully to these new provocations. But the opposite has happened: They’re taking the barrage with a degree of calm virtually unseen before from this administration. In fact, they’re actively downplaying — and in some cases even defending — North Korea’s actions.
Trump told Fox News’s Sean Hannity that Kim’s missile tests didn’t worry him at all. “They haven’t done nuclear testing, they really haven’t tested missiles other than, you know, smaller ones, which is something that lots [of countries] test,” he said.
That view is fairly consistent with his past statements: As long as Kim doesn’t test a nuclear weapon or a long-range missile, Trump is happy. … The potential problem, though, is that the Trump administration’s approach could produce more issues down the line.
“Maybe they’re picking their battles to focus on resuming much-needed negotiations for a deal,” Duyeon Kim, a North Korea expert at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum in Seoul, told me. “But [they’re] telling South Korea and Americans living there that they don’t matter.”
The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that the US Defense Intelligence Agency assesses that North Korea may have produced 12 nuclear weapons since Trump and Kim first shook hands in Singapore last year. That, added to the new potentially nuclear-launching submarine and further-tested missiles, means Kim has a greater arsenal at his disposal now than when his diplomacy with Trump started.