A former-Director of US Intelligence has claimed “egos” could the the factor that sparks conflict between the United States and North Korea.
Speaking on Radio 4′s Today programme, John Negroponte said the escalation in rhetoric between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un “could cause one side or the other to feel they’ve been painted into some kind of psychological corner”.
He added: “I’m concerned that it raises the risk of miscalculation perhaps on both sides - I think hot rhetoric is never a very good idea in international diplomacy and I think in this particular case and when both sides are making pretty severe threats, it seems to me that maybe it would be useful if the rhetoric could be toned down a little bit.”
This concern over “miscalculation” echoes experts interviewed recently by HuffPost UK who said the most likely cause of an all-out war would likely be accidental rather than deliberate.
“Some of the military options that the US might be considering might well lead us into dangerous territory.
Tom Plant, Director, Proliferation and Nuclear Policy at the RUSI, said: “If it were tempted to consider some form of attack - perhaps by cruise missile, as Trump authorised in Syria - on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes, then Pyongyang would certainly respond.
“It would have to, otherwise its own deterrent posture would be fatally damaged. An escalatory spiral might then develop, if each side misread the other, potentially leading to war. This is far from a certainty, given that no party would wish to see that happen - but it is a sobering possibility that hawks should seriously address.”
While North Korea has always indulged in fiery rhetoric, particularly towards the US, Trump’s presidency marks the first time it has been returned with similar levels of bluster.
His latest tweet on the matter was interpreted by some as “threatening murder”.
Kim Jong-Un had just days earlier labelled Trump a “dotard”, prompting people to rush for the dictionary and wonder why it wasn’t in common parlance.
Negroponte, who was US Director of National Intelligence under George W Bush from 2007-09, also suggested Trump has some way to go before being fully competent in his role.
He said: “I think he’s learning his job, his learning curve has been steep and I’m not sure he’s fully there yet but I do think his Secretary of State and others around him have gained a lot of wisdom.”
The latest developments on the ground show North Korea appears to have boosted defences on its east coast, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said on Tuesday, after the North said Trump had declared war and that it would shoot down US bombers flying near the peninsula.
Tensions have escalated since North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on 3 September, but the rhetoric has reached a new level in recent days with leaders on both sides exchanging threats and insults.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said Trump’s Twitter comments, in which the US leader said Ri and leader Kim Jong Un “won’t be around much longer” if they acted on their threats, amounted to a declaration of war and that Pyongyang had the right to take countermeasures, reports Reuters.
Yonhap suggested the reclusive North was in fact bolstering its defenses by moving aircraft to its east coast and taking other measures after U.S. bombers flew close to the Korean peninsula at the weekend.
The unverified Yonhap report said the United States appeared to have disclosed the flight route of the bombers intentionally because North Korea seemed to be unaware. South Korea’s National Intelligence Service was unable to confirm the report immediately.
Ri said on Monday the North’s right to countermeasures included shooting down US bombers “even when they are not inside the airspace border of our country”.
“The whole world should clearly remember it was the US who first declared war on our country,” he told reporters in New York on Monday, where he had been attending the annual United Nations General Assembly.
“The question of who won’t be around much longer will be answered then,” he said.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders denied on Monday that the United States had declared war, calling the suggestion “absurd”.