Missile Diplomacy
After Nork Test, Trump Backs Allies

North Korea’s missile launch on Sunday provided an early test for how President Trump will approach one of Washington’s most unpredictable foes. According to Reuters, Trump’s muted response suggests that he had few good options and little to say in response to the threat from Pyongyang:

Trump’s initial public comments on Saturday on the test launch of what was believed to be an intermediate-range Musudan-class missile were unexpectedly measured – and brief – compared to earlier bluster about another U.S. adversary, Iran, since he took office on January 20.

“I just want everybody to understand, and fully know, that the United States of America is behind Japan, our great ally, 100 percent,” Trump told reporters in Palm Beach, Florida, speaking in a solemn tone alongside visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The U.S. president did not mention North Korea or signal any retaliatory plans for what was widely seen as an early effort to test the new administration. […]

White House adviser Stephen Miller insisted on ABC’s “This Week” that Trump’s one-sentence statement was an “important show of solidarity” with Japan. He told “Fox News Sunday” the administration was going to bolster its allies in the region against the “increasing hostility” of North Korea.

While the Trump Administration is still in the early stages of formulating its strategy, it did send an important signal that should not go overlooked: By standing side-by-side with his Japanese counterpart to denounce North Korean aggression, Trump clearly aligned himself with the foreign policy mainstream that favors the U.S. standing by its allies as a matter of principle. Later, in pledging “solidarity” with Japan and promising to reinforce Pacific security ties, his administration went even further. The campaign rhetoric of openly questioning the value of such alliances has, for now at least, been put on ice.

This does not mean that Trump will abandon negotiations with allies on defense spending or other issues where he feels he can get a better deal for the United States. Maybe, however, such conversations will now happen behind closed doors, not in full view of the public.

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