At the centre of the nuclear face-off between North Korea and the United States lies the indomitable egos of its two leading protagonists. Just before the presidential election last year Oxford University released a speculative psychopathy test ranking Donald Trump ahead of Adolf Hitler. Kim Jong-un‘s disregard for human life is self-evident.
This is a dispute between boys with toys. But it is wrong, as some are doing, to equivocate the two leaders; one is contributing more to this crisis than the other. Indeed, North Korea, or rather the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, has conducted six nuclear tests since 2006, and launched their first successful intercontinental ballistic missile this year. Much like 1962, tensions between ambitious communist dictatorships and the U.S are getting hotter; and North Korea is getting warmer.
And yet, on Question Time last week the political commentator Paul Mason said that Kim Jong-un had ‘done the world a favour’ by putting someone who has ‘fantasised all his life’ about nuclear weapons ‘on the back foot’. Similarly, an op-ed for CNN recently called Trump ‘the American Kim’ and argued that the President’s inflammatory rhetoric had made a bad situation worse.
It is true that in recent weeks the U.S has sent bombers to fly over the Korean peninsula as its approach through the United Nations fails to deliver – but this is the result of provocation. And the U.S is not conducting its own nuclear tests. More importantly, however, is that Donald, unlike Kim, has not executed his enemies (or his family), and he has not enslaved up to 120,000 of his own citizens. Rhetoric aside, Trump’s approach to North Korea has not been that different to his predecessor’s; Rex Tillerson, much like John Kerry, has made an effort to maintain dialogue with North Korea while the introduction of sanctions is something Obama did with Russia.
Trump’s style may be different from Obama’s, but the substance of their approach is by and large identical. And the comparison between Trump and Kim-Jong-un is unfounded and unhelpful. Understandably, it is based on the revulsion at his blunt and crude rhetoric, but it reeks of the hysteria which surrounded Trump’s election and the denial which infects his presidency. Rather than comparing the two, we should be thankful that Trump’s weapons are words, not warheads.