It’s an historic mistake - potentially catastrophic - to leave the fate of the Koreas, as well as of Iran and the Middle East - indeed international peace itself - in the hands of an individual who has demonstrated seriously erratic political and psychological behaviour. Our world has rarely been in so precarious a situation, for a multiple reasons and in multiple places simultaneously, as since Donald Trump came to occupy the White House.
Even if the American president were stable and less dangerous, the controlling role the US imposes on the world through its imperialistic, and often isolated, policies needs to be diffused before it results in disastrous regional and even world conflagration.
Last year, a group of prominent American mental health experts assessed the president from a mental health perspective as a public service, using the voluminous information that became available through the special counsel’s report. They published their findings in the Boston Globe and petitioned to present their findings to Congress. In short, they found that Mr Trump failed to meet every criterion for rational, reality-based decision-making capacity, and they explained their findings in multiple media.
In doing so, they highlighted the many impairments that help explain the instability and impulsivity that led Trump to the brink of war with Iran, the chaotic policies with regard to Syria, a unilateral reversal of long-time policies with regard to Israel and Palestine, his forcing the US to be the only nation dismissing a critical international climate agreement, and his abrogation of the most important nuclear and missile arms control treaties, to give just a quick listing of his recklessly dangerous deeds.
While recent attention has turned to the explosive Middle East situation, North Korea has announced that it is no longer bound by commitments to halt its nuclear program and missile testing, blaming the United States’ failure to advance nuclear talks or to lift “brutal and inhumane” sanctions. We must not neglect to focus on an ominous situation where North Korea and the US are yet again engaged in extremely belligerent threats that could rapidly escalate. It was not long ago that the world witnessed Trump’s repeated threats of “total annihilation” of North Korea followed by an abrupt reversal to personally meet and befriend Kim Jong-un. Then in rapid contradictory succession came Trump’s confused and chaotic failed Hanoi summit, after which came the last-minute walk with Mr. Kim across the DMZ. As a Korean proverb goes, “A pot that is quick to heat is also quick to cool.” Now Trump and Kim are back to vicious insults and serious sabre rattling.
There is no consistency to what has been happening, precisely because the current American president is dangerously mentally compromised. This comes on top of long-term American policies which use the Korean conflict to further militant geopolitical pursuits of regional control. Despite Trump’s impeachment, , those in the forefront of American aggressive policies are using his impairments to pursue vast increases in Pentagon and CIA budgets, to eliminate long-standing international treaties and obligations, and to pursue enhanced war preparations in Asia as well as the Middle East and Europe.
In short, our country and the international community dare not underestimate the additional threats to world peace because of Mr. Trump’s highly impaired mental condition and his vulnerability to extremist forces that would manipulate him.
As a forensic psychiatrist and one of the authors of the mental health report, Lee has suggested for some time that multilateral not unilateral negotiations resolve the Korean conflict for reasons of the American president’s mental impairments. Co-author of this op-ed, Bruzonsky, a Washington-based international affairs expert, has recommended that an urgent international summit be convened - including China, South Korea, Russia and Japan - under the auspices of the UN Security Council. After all, he argues, it was the UN flag under which the Korean War was fought and under which negotiations to formally end the conflict should now proceed. This would be our best chance at prompt de-escalation of threats and pursuing the goal of a peaceful reunification of the Koreas.
Now, with Trump threatening Iran and at political and economic war with both Russia and China, as well as having provoked major disputes with many of America’s traditional allies, the time for bold action to restrain, contain, and deter both Donald Trump and America is at hand.
This can start with the Koreas. North and South Koreans have every right to finally insist on the cessation of unilateral US control of the vitally-needed peaceful reunification of their country. The initial and highly symbolic steps taken by both Koreas in recent years, including their single flag at the Winter Olympics two years ago, provide the backdrop. But to achieve this goal, the two Koreas themselves now need to jointly appeal to the world community, working through the United Nations, to take the initiative and insist on multilateral responsibility.
Time is not on our side. The dangers of today’s situation threaten to escalate quickly and uncontrollably in tandem with what has become a frighteningly dangerous, out of control international arms race. The risk of drastic actions from an unstable US president as he faces impeachment and then, it now seems, a very high-stakes election campaign (which if lost could result in imprisonment), is greater than ever. Since our own nation has been unable to manage our own affairs properly, we look to the international community to play a far more significant role, including constraining our dangerous president and containing our national militancy.
The peaceful reunification of Korea is a major goal in itself. But beyond that, faced with many urgent issues, including the necessity to use far more seriously our collective resources to address climate breakdown, international peace and even the survival of advanced human civilisation are now at stake. Thus, the moment has come for political and diplomatic courage from all - Americans and Koreans alike, in addition to the other great powers and the United Nations itself -, to assume more assertively and credibly the responsibilities for which it was created.
- Bandy X. Lee is a forensic psychiatrist at Yale School of Medicine and a project group leader for the World Health Organization. Mark Bruzonsky is an international affairs expert and political analyst in Washington DC.
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