Over the last few weeks, the political leaders of the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have been engaged in a Twitter battle of insults and veiled threats that have progressively escalated into a show of American military force and the potential detonation of a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific by North Korea.
At a press conference following a meeting with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain, U.S. President Donald Trump addressed questions from journalists with “tough talk” answers that suggest bellicose actions could take place. This statement came in the wake of comments by the Foreign Minister of North Korea, who believes that social media updates posted to Twitter by Trump constitute a declaration of war. Indeed, Trump has demeaned, belittled and threatened North Korean leader Kim Jong Un even as the DPRK continues to conduct tests of its missile systems, which are alleged to have nuclear warhead capabilities.
At the United Nations General Assembly last week, Trump delivered an incendiary speech against North Korea as he praised embargo sanctions and resolutions taken by the Security Council against North Korea. On September 26, Trump played down the declaration of war comments by North Korea, but he insisted that a military option was still on the table. Moreover, Trump announced additional sanctions against individuals and business entities that may conduct banking business with North Korea, a country that has significant financial ties with China.
Amidst this escalation of Twitter taunts, there are valid concerns in Seoul and at the demilitarized zone across the border that separates North and South Korea, where American military forces have been stationed since the middle of the 20th century. Ever since Trump assumed the presidency, troops stationed at the DMZ have been on heightened alert as they are reinforced with personnel, weapons and equipment. US Air Force bombers have been flying missions close to the eastern shores of North Korea; this show of force is certainly dangerous at a time of heightened tensions, and it is making the people of Seoul very nervous.
It is important to note that the capital of South Korea is located just 30 miles from the DMZ, which means that it is within artillery range of civilian targets. South Koreans are paying close attention to the news these days, particularly with the threat of a short-range nuclear strike. Even the deployment of Terminal High Altitude Air Defense System (THAAD) batteries to Seoul has not managed to assuage the fears of South Koreans at a time when military analysts predict thousands of deaths on a daily basis if war breaks out between Trump and Kim Jong Un, two political leaders whose public exchanges do not inspire any confidence.