Predictability can be close to complacency, and the dangers in both are to be seen in the uncertainties over North Korea’s on-going nuclear ambitions.
Those ambitions are not new: for many years the Pyongyang regime has impoverished its people in its quest for viable nuclear weapons, and every advance has been boasted about to the world it sees as its enemy.
While concern about the North Korean nuclear potential grew, the belief remained that it would never happen, and this complacency fostered an attitude of denial and procrastination that became predictable. Successive world leaders talked about sanctions and diplomacy but it was clear nothing substantive was going to be done to curtail this small but dangerous country. Pyongyang knew this, and so carried on, complacent as a result of the predictability of world powers like the US and China.
Now it is very different as an unpredictable president responds to North Korean actions and threats. Suddenly the situation is filled with uncertainty, and no one knows what President Trump will do next, and how Kim Jong-un will respond. It is interesting that some commentators believe Mr Trump has created a dangerous situation, when its nucleus, in fact, lies in North Korea going back a long time. It is interesting, too, to reflect on how President Obama – a very predictable president – would have reacted if American territory had been threatened with a nuclear strike in his time.
The combination of new UN approved sanctions, threatening presidential rhetoric, and contrasting diplomatic words from Trump’s Defence Secretary and Secretary of State means that North Korea no longer can assume they can do what they want in their bid to be a respected nuclear power, and a world threat. Complacency everywhere is gone, replaced by a new realism and, perhaps, a new wisdom.
Sometimes it takes a crisis to bring sanity, and sanity is much needed in our world. Trump’s unpredictability may be a cloak for a clever strategy to defuse a challenging situation, or it may the sign of worrying instability. I prefer to believe the former, but remember, too, that he is the Brawler, here to shake things up – and that he is doing, very well indeed.