To start the new year off, the 45th President of the United States threatened nuclear Armageddon with a joke about his genitals. On January 2nd, Donald Trump retaliated against North Korean aggression with his preferred mode of communication, Twitter, and in doing so sparked fervent commentary across social media and around the world: “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
The response came in the wake of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s address. He specifically targeted the United States throughout the speech, as quoted by Fox: “The U.S. should know that the button for nuclear weapons is on my table…The entire area of the U.S. mainland is within our nuclear strike range.” The address was yet another attack against the U.S. made by the head of a rogue state criticized and sanctioned heavily by the United Nations for human rights violations.
Although Trump’s comment may be startling, it is only the last in a long line of explosive bickering between the president of the United States and the dictator of North Korea. Last August, the president warned of “…fire and fury, and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before,” in response to North Korean threats to attack a U.S. military base in Guam. On November 11th of 2017, he tweeted another comment on North Korea that made headlines: “Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me ‘old,’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat?’ Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend – and maybe someday that will happen!” Even the morning before Trump’s first hair-raising statement of 2018, the 45th president spoke of Kim Jong Un’s recent outreach to South Korea and referred to him by Trump’s insult of choice when mentioning the North Korean dictator. “Sanctions and ‘other’ pressures are beginning to have a big impact on North Korea. Soldiers are dangerously fleeing to South Korea. Rocket man now wants to talk to South Korea for first time. Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not – we will see!”
Donald Trump’s statement on atomic retaliation and genital size was met with mixture of support and disapproval. In response to criticisms from Democrats such as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was a statement from the White House by press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “This is a president who is not going cower down and is not going to be weak and is going to make sure he does what he’s promised to do, and that’s stand up and protect the American people.”
Threatening nuclear war over Twitter is frightening to most, but some say that the move on Trump’s part is intentional. Marc Thiessen, columnist for the Washington Post, compared Trump’s bold approach to diplomacy to the strategies used by former U.S. president Ronald Reagan, whose tactics helped guide the Cold War to a close. Throughout his tenure as president, Reagan broke with his predecessors and made clear nuclear war was an option. By adding an edge of unpredictability to the negotiating table, the Soviet Union’s threats of destruction had less power. Some believe that Donald Trump is using a similar plan; by distinguishing himself as more dangerous and impulsive than previous presidents, peaceful negotiations may sound better to North Korea rather than an atomic war.
Luckily, neither Donald Trump or Kim Jong Un have a literal nuclear button at their table that can bring on the apocalypse in an instant. Rather, the United States has a “nuclear football”; a briefcase brought along with the president at all times with the capability of authorizing nuclear strikes if the commander-in-chief wishes to do so. While better than a button, launching a nuclear attack only requires the president’s command, so long as they provide what are known as the “gold codes” to verify their identity.
The recent remark by Trump rekindled an old debate over allowing one person alone to have the ability to send out nuclear missiles. It’s true that if the United States were to be the target of an atomic bomb, a quick decision on whether to retaliate must be made, but some are beginning to question the president’s capabilities for handling the job. The U.S. has 1,411 nuclear warheads deployed, and one man continually criticized for impulsive and erratic behaviour with the power to launch them.
By Jordan King