As President Donald Trump makes his journey to Asia for a 12-day, five-country trip, international security experts are urging him to “stick to the script” and avoid making incendiary comments while discussing North Korea.
The “America first” leader has engaged in an escalating war of words with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in recent months. In September, Trump threatened to “totally destroy” the rogue nation, which is home to an estimated 25 million people, if provoked.
Pyongyang has made significant advancements to its internationally condemned nuclear program this year and has repeatedly claimed that it is capable of striking the U.S. mainland with a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile. Kim’s regime is expected to be a key topic of discussion during Trump’s meetings in China, South Korea and Japan.
As tensions rise, experts fear Trump’s response to the situation is only fanning the flames, not dousing the fire.
“Trumpian rhetoric to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea is not helpful at a time when, alarmingly, the likelihood of all-out war on the Korean Peninsula has moved from remotely possible to almost palpable,” William Choong and Alexander Neill, senior fellows at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, wrote in a report published Friday.
“It is critically important for Asia-Pacific security that Trump does not fly off the handle,” they warned.
On Thursday, national security adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters Trump is unlikely to moderate his remarks overseas.
“The president will use whatever language he wants to use, obviously,” McMaster said. “I don’t think the president really modulates his language. I mean, have you noticed him do that? He has been very clear about that.”
This is hardly surprising to Catherine Dill, a defense analyst at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, but it is “absolutely concerning.”
“In my view, with North Korea ― and to some degree, also with [U.S.] allies in the region ― there is a real risk of miscalculation and unintended escalation. A lot of that could occur because of sloppy rhetoric,” she said.