On Wednesday night, North Korea’s chief of staff of the Korean People's Army (KPA) published a statement that warned Pyongyang will take “prompt corresponding actions at any level” if the United States initiates military action and said “our Supreme Commander (Kim Jong Un) was displeased by the undesirable remarks” made by President Donald Trump. The statement came after Trump threatened to take military action against North Korea if he had to.
The personal relationship between the two leaders is the only reason why the precarious nuclear talks still have not fallen apart. Trump has boasted about his personal connection to the North Korean leader since last year’s Singapore summit and maintained the stance even when he was threatening military force against North Korea by saying “I have a great relationship with him. I trust him.” Pyongyang also cited their strong relationship and trust when requesting direct deals between the two leaders.
However, their personal ties are fraying at the seams. The remarks about Kim’s dissatisfaction mark the beginning. The North Korean leader seems to have realized that he cannot let his friendship with President Trump stand in the way of ratcheting up tensions as the self-imposed year-end deadline is quickly approaching. North Korea is not refraining from calling South Korean President Moon Jae-in “nosy” and “brazen.” The hospitality Moon once enjoyed has been nowhere to be seen since Kim had a change of heart.
The “bizarre bromance” seems to be facing the same fate. The affection was based on the North Korean leader’s somewhat illusory commitment to denuclearization, and now Kim is more than willing to deny it. During the two-year detente, Pyongyang has built new nuclear weapons. It continued to operate its nuclear fuel plants, producing nuclear warheads and enhanced its ICBM technologies although it has not conducted nuclear tests.
North Korea’s nuclear program is more expansive and sophisticated than ever before, meaning its threats will be greater than two years ago, especially considering that it is seeking a “new path.” If the personal relationship the two leaders maintained for the optics turns sour, the situation can escalate to a crisis. It would be foolish of South Korea and the United States to hold onto what they have hoping that things could change. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Coaxing is not always the best strategy. Seoul and Washington should be ready to retaliate against North Korea’s provocations.