An analysis of the dangers that threaten America, as well as China and South Korea. In addition, Kim Jong Un is an even more mysterious and unpredictable character than Syria’s Assad. We can conclude that he may even be clinically insane, judging by many of his actions. Besides, unlike Assad, he has atomic weapons at his disposal.

“North Korea is looking for trouble. If China decides to help, that would be great. If not, we will solve the problem without them!” Trump tweeted.

Trump has moved from tweets to action. He has ordered a group of battleships, including the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, to change their route and head to the Korean Peninsula instead of to their mission in Australia.* It is a show of strength, but there is nothing new about it. Before him, Barack Obama did the same thing twice, sending warships near Korean coasts without result. Trump has also asked his military advisers to present him with “a range of options to rein in North Korea.”

Kim Jong Un has reacted with his usual harshness: “This goes to prove that the U.S. [sic] reckless moves for invading the DPRK have reached a serious phase of its scenario. […] The DPRK is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the U.S. […] We will hold the U.S. wholly accountable for the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by its outrageous actions.” The statement’s tone is in line with the belligerent culture of a regime that has been claiming for half a century that an American invasion is imminent. The regime justifies all sorts of cruelties it inflicts on its own people with this permanent state of mobilization. The expression “to any mode of war” is a clear reference to the possible use of the nuclear weapons Pyongyang already owns, weapons built in disregard of international norms (norms which China itself has signed and is supposed to uphold). There is a possibility that North Korea will carry out a sixth atomic test, and Trump’s threats could accelerate it. In the meantime, Pyongyang is preparing for previously planned grand military parades in celebration of several festivities.

The game Trump started involves risks for everyone, though obviously he did not create the instability in the area. That problem has been getting worse over many years. Neither Bill Clinton, nor George W. Bush, nor Barack Obama were able to stop Pyongyang’s march towards nuclear weaponry.

One of the dangers that threatens America lies in the difference between North Korea and Syria. Kim Jong Un is an even more mysterious and unpredictable character than Assad. We can conclude that he may even be clinically insane, judging by many of his actions. Besides, unlike Assad, he has atomic weapons at his disposal. After all, Kim was quick to comment: “The reality of today proves our decision to strengthen our military power to stand against force with force was the right choice a million times over,” referring to the Tomahawk missile strike in Syria.

Pyongyang’s army and scientists are attempting to develop intercontinental missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads to America’s West Coast, but it is unlikely they’re close to this goal. Despite that, even with a much more limited missile power, they can still hit a very close target: South Korea, a densely populated country and a U.S. ally. The human cost of North Korean retaliation could be terrifying. These are the “catastrophic consequences” referenced in Pyongyang’s statement.

There are also great risks for China, the other important player in this match. Could Beijing stand by and watch passively as America attacked Pyongyang, its “vassal” and neighbor? Mao Zedong fought a war alongside North Korea. It was only because of China’s intervention that the conflict ended in 1953 in a “tie,” as well as with the division of the peninsula in two.

China also fears the specter of a collapse of Kim’s regime – one of the most ferocious dictatorships in the world – that would probably end in Korea’s reunification under U.S. hegemony, a repeat of the German reunification that brought NATO to Russia’s borders. It would be a disaster for Xi Jinping’s leadership.

The most likely hypothesis is still a tactical move: one that will be bold or ruthless, risky or irrational, depending on how it ends. Trump wants to scare the Chinese into finally knocking some sense into a small, out of control state that is dependent on them. Without Beijing’s aid, North Korea would have already imploded. Only the energy provided by China keeps the lights on in Pyongyang.

Trump alternates the stick with the carrot. He offered the Chinese a trade deal that would be “far better for them if they solve the North Korean problem!” Even protectionism has become a bargaining chip in this nerve-wracking negotiation. One must also admit that the Chinese leadership has always behaved very ambiguously, as it never followed up with consistent actions after its condemnation of North Korea’s missile tests.

*Editor’s note: It has now been shown that the USS Carl Vinson wasn’t sailing to deter North Korea, as previously suggested.