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U.S. Demonstrates Show Of Military Force In The Skies Near North Korea


The United States flew warplanes just east of North Korea over the weekend. Bombers have flown near this area before, but the Pentagon said it was the farthest north of the demilitarized zone any U.S. fighter has flown in the 21st century. According to the Pentagon, the move demonstrates that President Trump, quote, "has many military options to defeat any threat."

Robert Daly is here. He's a former diplomat and director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the U.S. at the Wilson Center. Thanks for coming back on. We appreciate it.

ROBERT DALY: Pleasure to be here.

GREENE: That sounds dramatic (laughter) from the U.S. government. Is it as dramatic as they make this sound?

DALY: It's really not terribly dramatic. The United States has all sorts of military assets in East Asia Pacific. North Korea knows this. China knows this. Flying a little bit further north doesn't really give either Kim Jong Un or Xi Jinping information they don't already have. This is the kind of escalation or demonstration that you carry out when you don't really want to escalate. You want to remind.

GREENE: Remind - OK. So there's no real shock value then, maybe, if you do this. I mean, we've gotten to the point where these military leaders - I mean, these leaders, Trump and the leader of North Korea, send all these messages back and forth that sound so bellicose. But what is the purpose of this if you're President Trump?

DALY: There's - there is shock value if Kim Jong Un decides that he wants to claim to be shocked. He, like President Trump, has made very strong statements to his own people, statements that almost obligate him to take further action. So he can use this, if he wants, to say you see, the United States is determined to destroy us. I, Kim Jong Un, am your only defense and therefore you need my further support. And it also reminds China that the United States has a tremendous number of military assets and the ability to increase them in the area should it so choose, which is what China most wants to avoid. Remember, when these planes fly east of the Korean Peninsula, they are flying in the Yellow Sea very close to China and what it calls its near seas. And that's a part of the messaging as well.

GREENE: OK. If that's part of the messaging, if you're President Trump, what are you trying to get China to do here?

DALY: You want China to change its cost benefit analysis and to realize that if it doesn't bring North Korea in line - and there are serious questions about whether China can do that at all - that the United States and its allies will strengthen their alliance and may increase their deployments in the region, which increases America's status as the most powerful nation in the region, which is what China doesn't want. China wants to be the most important strategic player. And so this can send a message that says, look, if you don't bring them in line, you're going to see a stronger alliance. You'll see more anti-ballistic missile systems. You'll see precisely what you don't want.

GREENE: What does bringing them in line mean? I mean, would China ever go so far as to say help the United States remove Kim Jong Un, or short of that, what would look like it was China being a partner with the United States here?

DALY: What the United States would like, and what China to some degree would like, is a more compliant Kim Jong Un, one that would take some advice and guidance from China and that would at the very least freeze its development of nuclear weapons and help to create a path for diplomacy, which is what China and to a degree the United States also want. But it is very hard to find that path to diplomacy, which Secretary Tillerson and others have been seeking, if North Korea continues to test nuclear weapons, possibly hydrogen bombs and ICBMs. North Korea, of course, is now threatening to detonate a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean, which would be extremely escalatory.

GREENE: All right. Robert Daly - he's a former diplomat and he directs the Kissinger Center on China and the U.S. at the Wilson Center. Thanks so much for coming in.

DALY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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