Over the past 15, 20 years, the North Korea situation has looked like a normal distribution. In other words, you’d have a very thin outcome, thin likelihood of a breakthrough that could bring peace, a very thin likelihood of war, and just this general status quo of a rogue state that treats its people like dirt, like animals.
Now, you have an environment where it’s gotten a lot worse, where they’re much more dangerous, where they’re much more willing and capable to cause problems internationally.
Trump, as president focused on these issues, has basically taken both of the thin, tail end distribution outcomes in North Korea, and he’s made them bigger.
There’s a real possibility that Trump could actually say to the North Koreans, “I’m prepared to meet with Kim Jong Un.” And there could be a real breakthrough. And he could get — if that happened, he gets a Nobel. Frankly, he’d deserve a Nobel for that much more than Obama did for his. There’s no question there.
But there’s also a real possibility of a war. The fact that Trump has said that it is unacceptable for the North Koreans to develop the capability to hit the American homeland, at least California and the west coast, that he’ll stop them, he won’t let them do that.
Now, he says the Chinese are going to help us, and the Chinese are doing a little, but not enough to force the North Koreans to the table. It’s much more likely than not that any American entreaties will fail. Chinese, South Korean entreaties will fail.
So ultimately, either the US backs down and accepts this continued, slow deterioration of the status quo, or the US does something. Like, engages in direct strikes against North Korea. Here, you’re kind of hitting a box. You don’t know what’s in the box. You don’t know if the box is going to fall apart, you don’t know what’s going to come out of the box. It’s pretty dangerous.
There’s a real danger that over the course of a Trump administration that the US will be at war with North Korea and that millions of people in the region will die. I don’t say that lightly. I think it’s possible. I don’t think it’s likely. But, it’s not 1%.
And a year ago, five years ago, the likelihood of major military confrontation between the United States and major countries with real military capability was effectively zero, it was close to zero. That’s not true anymore, and North Korea is probably the place where it’s most dangerous.