Trump's threat to 'totally destroy' North Korea is more significant than you may think

President Donald Trump addressed the United Nations Tuesday with a dark tone, setting off chatter about the possibility of a nuclear war.

Besides calling Iran a "murderous regime" and accusing its government of seeking nuclear weapons -- despite its 2015 agreement with the U.S. and allies to curb its nuclear program -- the U.S. president also made strong threats towards North Korea directly in front of the their delegation, which drew front row seats through a U.N. lottery system.

"The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea," Trump said to the 193-member group.

Trump also mocked North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, with a nickname, saying, "Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime."

In addition, President Trump pledged to hold Venezuela's socialist dictator Nicolas Maduro accountable for imposing a "disastrous" authoritarian rule on his people and vowed to crush "loser terrorists" in the Middle East.

Trump certainly is no stranger to name-calling and threats, but to many, the rhetoric heard at the U.N. meeting is teetering a thin, dangerous line.

ABC10 reached out to local expert on American Foreign Policy and International Relations, Dr. David Andersen-Rodgers, to get a deeper look at the significance of Trump's words.

"That such a statement was made at the U.N. General Assembly was horrifying and unprecedented," said Andersen-Rodgers, who is an associate professor at Sacramento State University.

Andersen-Rodgers explained, the purpose of a U.N. assembly is to promote peace, not destruction. So, making such a statement was "horrifying" within a U.N. speech.

The U.S. has long had a rocky relationship with North Korea. The two nations have no formal diplomatic relations and the tension has only escalated since Trump was elected President.

North Korea recently launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on July 4 and followed with another test just three weeks later. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the first launch "a new escalation of the threat to the United States, our allies and partners, the region, and the world.”

Trump responded by threatening to unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea if it continued to make threats against the U.S. But North Korea only continued to test more missiles.

According to Andersen-Rodgers, the tense relationship between the two countries has been the same prior to Trump, but instead of negotiating and cooling North Korea down, as other presidents have done in the past, the current president's rhetoric escalates the situation.

Nothing has changed other than the U.S. response to North Korea. Trump's speech to the U.N. delegates did nothing but "exacerbate" the nuclear crisis between the two nations.

The basic remarks made by Trump implies the possibility of a nuclear attack, or one equivalent, that will wipe out 25 million people if North Korea continues its pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

North Korea's nuclear weapons serve to deter a larger nation, such as the U.S., from invading them, said Andersen-Rodgers. It's a form of protection from the U.S., so when Trump threatens North Korea, it takes away their sense of security.

Andersen-Rodgers told ABC10 the only way North Korea will cool down and feel safe from the U.S. is through negotiations. However, the university professor said he doesn't believe Trump has the appropriate negotiating skills or the right team behind him to calm the situation. 

The concept of perception and misperception, or the message perceived through language and actions, is often discussed in international relations.

"With rhetoric you signal intention," said Andersen-Rodgers.

Such as during the Cold War, making threats and showing off nuclear weapons sends a message of "toughness" and a certain image or intention.

Trump's words can trigger a misperception leading North Korea to believe they're under attack, which could result in a major conflict.

"It's probably as close to a nuclear exchange we have been since the Cold War," said Andersen-Rodgers.

While North Korea holds no real threat to U.S. soil, at this point, it's unlikely the U.S. will be able to launch an attack where North Korea couldn't respond, according to Andersen-Rodgers.

When discussing nuclear war, response time of a counter-attack is always taken into account. Any war with North Korea could result in the deaths of tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of South Koreans.

"We should be hoping cooler heads prevail," said Andersen-Rodgers, adding later, "There's no reason to be in this position."

© 2017 KXTV-TV


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