Threatening more nuclear tests, North Korea’s reclusive 27-year-old leader Kim Jong-Un is a chip off his old man’s block, Kim Jong-Il, who figured out how to blackmail the West into concessions. When Kim Jong-Il died Dec. 17, 2011, it was automatic for his mini-me son to take over. Pyongyang rebelled against U.N. sanctions after Kim launched a long-range missile Dec. 12, 2012, defying its ban on nuclear and missile activity. Even China joined the West on the U.N. Security Council voting for more sanctions against the world’s most totalitarian state. Kim warned of “significant action,” usually meaning more missile or nuclear tests. Like the Islamic Republic of Iran, North Korea believes by obtaining nuclear weapons it can neutralize its Western critics. Nuclear experts believe that North Korea has enough weaponized plutonium for four to eight A-bombs.
South Korean Inje University nuclear expert Chin Hee-gwan expects North Korea to conduct nuclear tests in the near further. “He [Kim] is young yet powerful leader both domestically and internationally,” said Hee-qwan, attesting to Kim’s aggressive posture he learned from his father. When Kim’s father, Kim Jong-Il sank a South Korean Navy ship March 26, 2010 killing 46 sailors, South Korea did nothing to retaliate. Since North and South Korea signed their armistice July 27, 1953, the North Korean regime of Kim Il-Sung had defeated a formidable coalition of over 20 countries. South Korea recalls all too well its 137,899 war dead, reluctant again to press North Korea to end the armistice. With no formal surrender agreement, the best the U.S. could broker after losing 36,940 soldiers was an armistice, establishing the 37th parallel as the official demilitarized buffer zone.
Western powers, especially South Korea, take Kim’s threats seriously. Ranked 15th among the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, South Korea has become what former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev called one of the “soft” societies of the West. No one knew more than Khrushchev about the single-minded brutality of the Soviet system, especially Joseph Stalin’s famous purges, responsible for more than 24.5 million Russian deaths. Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il-Sung, who led the bloody battle of the Chosin Reservoir, was responsible for some 30,000 deaths from Nov. 27, 1950 to Dec. 13, 1950. With a GDP of over $1.5 trillion, South Koreans have no stomach for war with North Korea. Ranked about 125 with a GDP of $12.85 billion, North Korea ranks close to Mali, the Sub-Saharan African nation now battling al-Qaeda terrorists. Kim’s North Korea has nothing to lose with war.
Since the end of the Korean War, the U.S. has stationed nearly 30,000 troops on the Korean Peninsula to guard against a North Korean invasion. Pyongyang warned South Korea to not back any U.N. sanctions or face “strong physical countermeasures” that could include more attacks of naval vessels or possible shelling of South Korean controlled islands. U.S. and South Korean officials both dread possible aggression by the North. With nothing to lose, Kim, like other totalitarian dictators, relies on pernicious propaganda, news blackouts and brutal force to suppress freedom of speech and all other human rights. Kim’s threats of more nuclear testing undermine multilateral disarmament talks, pushing Pyongyang to take more desperate measures. With his late father’s birthday Feb. 16, some expect Kim to attempt a defiant nuclear test to commemorate the event’s festivities.
Kim has accused the U.S. and South Korea of pushing the U.N. Security Council to adopt tough new sanctions. No one knows what Kim refers to as “strong physical countermeasures,” other than more attacks on South Korean Navy vessels or ground attacks on South Korean territory. Chinese officials have warned North Korea that more nuclear testing would be met with more extreme sanctions. Kim, like Iran’s fiery President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, knows that the U.S. is stretched thin, attempting to end the 12-year old Afghan War. Kim knows he can take liberty with the nuclear testing because the U.S. won’t intervene militarily. North Korea backs down when they are confronted with superior military force. Only China has clout with its communist neighbor, despite efforts by Beijing to appear more aligned with Western political and economic objectives.
Disappointed that Kim Jong-Un would end his father’s provocative ways, his rule has proved every bit as ruthless. Most North Korean experts don’t expect many reforms from the world’s most totalitarian state. More nuclear testing and stockpiling weapons grade plutonium only gives Kim more clout in blackmailing South Korea and the West into more concessions. Unable to feed its population or export anything other than terrorism outside its borders, North Korea has lived up to former President George W. Bush’s billing as part of the “Axis of Evil.” Together with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran, Kim Jong-Un’s North Korea has proven to be the most dangerous regime on the planet. Having battled North Korea to a standoff in the Korean War [1950-1953], the U.S. and South Korea have no stomach for repeating another costly confrontation.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.