President Donald Trump has yet to establish his own brand of foreign policy, but it seems he’s starting to employ his own version of Theodore Roosevelt’s famed “speak softly and carry a big stick” doctrine — minus the part about speaking softly.
After raining Tomahawk missiles on a Syrian airfield last week, Trump dispatched a Navy strike group — the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and its accompanying fleet of destroyers — to the Korean Peninsula, where tensions with North Korea are running extremely high.
Ahead of his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week, Trump suggested the U.S. would take measures to “solve North Korea” without China’s help if necessary, and the president doubled down on that aggressive stance with a tweet Tuesday morning.
North Korea’s foreign ministry called the move “reckless” and warned of “catastrophic consequences” if the U.S. were to launch a pre-emptive attack.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last month that if North Korea were to “elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action,” then a pre-emptive military strike would be “on the table.”
Tillerson is currently headed to Moscow for meetings about the situation in Syria, but the possibility of a “unilateral military scenario” involving the U.S. in North Korea has the Russians “really worried,” according to a statement released Tuesday by the Kremlin.
Trump has enjoyed relatively positive U.S. media coverage of his retaliatory strike on Syria last week after the Assad regime used chemical weapons on civilians. With North Korea expected to launch more missiles or possibly conduct a sixth nuclear test to celebrate the birthday of Kim Jong Un’s grandfather on April 15, Trump could be tempted to try another intervention.
There’s no telling what would happen if Trump decided to attack North Korea, but fallout would likely be grim. Pyongyang would likely retaliate against South Korea, and there’s a chance that China, which has a mutual defense treaty with the North, could join the fray. In the worst-case scenario, the Kim regime could launch one of its nuclear weapons.
Of course, it’s possible that Trump is just talking tough to push the Chinese to enforce sanctions against North Korea. And it might be working: China reportedly just sent a fleet of North Korean cargo ships loaded with coal back to their home port without offloading the cargo, showing that Beijing is serious about enforcing a ban on North Korean coal that was announced on Feb. 26, cutting off one of the Hermit Kingdom’s most lucrative exports.