The risks of Trump-style 'intimidation'

The risks of Trump-style 'intimidation'
PHOTO: AFP

Most people probably have childhood memories of being scolded by their parents. Statements like, "You can't have dinner unless you do your homework" are a parenting tactic.

The real intentions behind a large number of US President Donald Trump's controversial remarks have not been what they seem.

In many cases, we should not accept his intimidating words at face value.

Though many of Trump's remarks have been extremely improper for a US president, there have been diplomatic situations in which his use of intimidation was effective.

This is because Trump has persisted with "unpredictable" words and deeds, rather than placing high importance on common sense and continuity.

Regarding North Korea's nuclear weapon and missile development programs, Trump remarked, "We are sending an armada [toward the sea near the Korean Peninsula]. Very powerful," suggesting the United States is prepared to conduct missile attacks.

By suggesting retaliation in the form of a military attack, Trump's aim is apparently to pressure North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who is also chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea, into not crossing the red line of firing an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Trump has repeatedly expressed expectations that Chinese President Xi Jinping will co-operate with him on this issue. He said, "A trade deal with the US will be far better for [China] if they solve the North Korean problem."

The remark, urging Xi to impose strong pressure on North Korea, is probably not a guarantee that Trump will overlook the US trade deficit with China.

Trump has also said, "If not, we will solve the problem without [China]." If China does not meet his expectations over the issue, then this remark could be interpreted as suggesting possible measures that would trouble Xi, such as sanctions on Chinese banks and tough trade negotiations.

Politicians pretending to be unable to grasp common sense while making frightening statements to opponents to gain concessions is called the "madman theory." Former US President Richard Nixon was known to have used this strategy.

He is said to have tried to end the Vietnam War by making North Vietnam believe the United States would not hesitate to conduct nuclear attacks.

Trump proudly says in his autobiography that he has been skillful in realizing real estate deals that are favourable to him through the use of appeasing and intimidating negotiation techniques.

It is also said that Trump respects Nixon. Trump, to some degree, has apparently adopted the strategy of acting like a madman.

The problem is that he seems not to have paid any attention to recognising worst-case scenarios and taking steps to avoid them.

It may be that Trump has touted his strength while leaving everything to luck.

It is uncertain whether North Korea's "madness" is strategic.

The risk of both the United States and North Korea becoming unable to step back amid a continued exchange of intimidating words and deeds - leading to a collision based on wrong predictions - can no longer be ruled out.

If parenting fails, the effects stay within the family. If a businessperson fails, they simply lose money.

A single comment by a US president, however, can be significant enough to change the course of history.

To what degree Trump understands this point is unknown.

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