Following North Korea’s latest missile test, the United States has run out of options. Sanctions and threats failed to stop the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s relentless drive to build missiles that can hit continental US. And it is highly unlikely that US President Donald Trump’s latest bluster about “destroying” Kim’s regime will have any impact either.
This erodes US standing in the eyes of the world, and encourages Russia and China to step up their attempts to build a multi-polar world. Any American attack on North Korea is likely to lead to massive casualties in South Korea, and with Kim’s latest missile now capable of hitting the US East Coast, the chances of any such overt move are bleak. Attempts to freeze the North Korean nuclear and missile programs are also unlikely to work.
North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are existential and defensive in nature. Kim knows that without the nuclear deterrent, the US attempt to wipe out his regime would not be just an empty threat. So now Beijing and Moscow are likely to get more involved and seek patience and containment, not because they want to help the US, but because it would mean the US has to defer to them in resolving the crisis, thereby diluting its position as the world’s sole superpower.
China, North Korea’s neighbour and largest trading partner, has paid lip service to American demands to put pressure on Kim, because any regime collapse would trigger unrest on the border and weaken a useful ally. No deal with North Korea can be negotiated without Chinese assent, so Beijing will leverage this to its own benefits and interests.
Trump’s bombast over the issue has already caused much consternation in other capitals of the world, and Russia has openly sneered at US requests to cut ties with Pyongyang. This puts Washington in the rather unenviable position of having to either deliver on its threats or confess its helplessness to the world.