Balance of Power: What Does North Korea Do Now?

Trump Steps Up Warnings to North Korea

North Korea’s Kim dynasty has mastered the art of brinkmanship for decades: scare the world with missiles and nuclear tests, strike a deal with the West, and then watch the aid money flow in.

The Obama administration sought to end all that with its policy of “strategic patience” -- essentially no longer rewarding North Korea for bad behavior. Kim Jong Un, who took power in 2011, responded by accelerating his push for a nuclear weapon.

Now that Kim’s almost got one, though, it doesn’t guarantee him victory. The stakes are higher on all sides, and the repercussions for his regime if it overplays its hand would be fatal.

Ultimately, Kim wants the U.S. to accept North Korea as a nuclear state, much like Pakistan a decade ago. That makes it unlikely he'd ever actually fire a nuclear warhead. Drown out the noise and some of his statements have even mentioned a willingness to negotiate with the U.S. if it drops its “hostile” policies.

But the Kim dynasty has never faced a president as unpredictable as Donald Trump. The big test for North Korea's young dictator may be whether he can pick the right moment to quit while he's ahead.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in an undated picture.
Photographer: STR/AFP

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Global Headlines

Asia braces for more tension | Asian markets tumbled again today and tensions could worsen next week as both Koreas mark the end of Japan's occupation in 1945, raising the prospect of more missile tests by Kim's regime. Meanwhile, North Korea's friends and enemies in the region are weighing in. Australia reaffirmed its support for the U.S. today and Japan deployed anti-missile systems. In China, the Communist Party-linked Global Times said that Beijing should block any effort by America to overthrow Kim.

Trump scolds McConnell | Replace Obamacare, overhaul the U.S. tax code and find a way to pay for big infrastructure improvements. That's the tall order that Trump laid out for Mitch McConnell if the Senate majority leader wants to get back in his good graces. The wish list followed two days of Trump assailing his fellow Republican on Twitter for the lack of action on his agenda.

Asian trade jitters | Commodity shippers are watching anxiously the standoff between the U.S. and North Korea. While North Korea is a tiny player in the world of raw materials, it’s surrounded by heavyweights that would suffer badly if shipping routes were disrupted by a conflict. As this graphic shows, China, South Korea and Japan buy huge amounts of soybean, liquefied natural gas and coal. Taken together, they import about a third of the world’s seaborne oil.

Merkel’s back | The German chancellor returns from vacation to the front line of campaigning this weekend as she steps up her bid for a fourth term. The Sept. 24 election is hers to lose: she leads her Social Democratic challenger Martin Schulz by 16 points in polls. With 50 campaign stops across Germany over the next six weeks, Merkel is intent on avoiding any sense of complacency.

Kenya braces for violence | Kenya is heading for a potentially violent political crisis after the opposition claimed the election was rigged and demanded its presidential candidate be declared the winner. The immediate fate of East Africa’s biggest economy hinges on whether President Uhuru Kenyatta’s main rival, Raila Odinga, decides to call his supporters into the streets to protest the announcement of final results due later today.

Fury as Trump thanks Putin | The U.S. diplomatic community lambasted Trump after he said Vladimir Putin’s decision to expel hundreds of embassy staff was a welcome cost-saving measure. "I want to thank him because we're trying to cut down on payroll," said Trump, who has proposed deep cuts to the State Department’s budget. The proposed reductions have drawn bipartisan opposition in Congress, setting up a potential showdown ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline to fund the federal government.

And finally... First came a report that U.S. diplomats in Havana were suffering unexplained hearing loss. Then Canada confirmed at least one of its diplomats has also been treated. American officials concluded the diplomats had been exposed to “an advanced device that operated outside the range of audible sound” around their Cuban government-owned residences, according to the Associated Press. Officials familiar with the probe say investigators are now examining whether a third country is to blame. Maybe even Russia.

A waving Flag of Cuba in Santa Clara at the Mausoleum Ernesto Che Guevara.
Photographer: Queensbury/iStockphoto
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