Trump And Putin Must Find Common Ground Over “Rocket Man”

September 26, 2017

As rhetoric soars over North Korea’s rogue nuclear programme, key players Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping must come to a consensus on strategy, or face catastrophe.

The world has been watching in suspense as a war of words unfolds between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.  “Rocket man”, as he is now known, has been unrelenting in his pursuit for a functional arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach mainland America, and the North Korean leader has been indiscriminate in his testing of both warheads and the missiles required to deliver them.  The situation has attracted unanimous condemnation from the international community, but a vital strategy is still absent.

Two of North Korea’s most powerful neighbours and patrons are China and Russia, both countries with whom the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea has enjoyed a fruitful and pragmatic relationship for decades.  As rhetoric between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un reaches new heights of passion and excess, both China and Russia have kept surprisingly quiet in condemning the suicidal aggression of their neighbour.

Alarm bells rang out when a recent report surfaced written by defence expert Michael Elleman.  In his report, Elleman suggests that North Korea’s unprecedented success in developing its missile programme was most likely due to help from outside.  In particular, the report points out that the missiles shown in North Korea’s propaganda launch videos are identical to the Soviet type RD-250, an extremely powerful engine that is capable of carrying multiple warheads over intercontinental distances.

The RD-250 type missiles have their origins in the town of Dnepropetrovsk in eastern Ukraine.  According to the New York Times, the local company Yuzhmash, which had been the chief supplier of such rockets to Russia and the former Soviet Union for decades, had fallen on hard times as a result of the financial crisis and the outbreak of war in eastern Ukraine after the annexation of Crimea.  It is said that Russia ceased buying from Yuzhmash at this point, and the company, facing collapse, was forced to look elsewhere for business.

Both Russia and Ukraine deny any involvement in North Korea’s missile programme, and Vladimir Putin has been outspoken in his criticism of Donald Trump’s rhetoric towards North Korea requesting that America should “not succumb to emotion and drive North Korea into a corner.”  Such remarks sound relatively sensible from a leader who poses himself as a neutral intermediary in the growing conflict.

However, in spite of these remarks, and while Donald Trump threatened to “totally destroy North Korea” during his address to the United Nations, Russia and China took the occasion to hold joint military drills just 100 miles from the North Korean border.  Such exercises take place every year, but the timing of this particular set of drills has raised suspicion of a military build up on the North Korean border.

A potentially nuclear conflict on the border of Russia and China is a cause for serious concern for regional leaders, and could would have devastating consequences for the wider world.  Vladimir Putin has claimed that solving the North Korean problem with sanctions and pressure is “impossible”, while advocating more tempered measures of diplomacy, yet his own strategic position is still unclear.

The lack of a consensus between the three major world powers in this situation could lead to an accidental conflict in a number of different ways.  So long as the major players fail to find common ground about how to deal with North Korea, the regime will continue to pursue its aggressive nuclear programme, and the world will be one wrong move away from catastrophe.

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