Third Party & Independents Archives

Kim Il Jong's very real (but equally unintentional) threat to the world

Contrary to popular belief, the bomb has not in fact kept world peace. Fear of the bomb has. Martin Van Creveld, perhaps the thinker in military science these days, makes this very point in his book Technology and War. This idea may strike you as merely a matter of words, but the distinction is important. A world unafraid to nuke its enemies will do so, regardless of the consequences of that deployment. Unfortunately though, by posing even the threat of a smaller nuclear attack, North Korean dictator Kim Il Jong may just be undermining that very fear and may in the process be undermining global stability and North Korea itself.

Kim is indeed posing such a threat, of course. After the failure of the six-nation summit meant to negotiate him out of a full-scale entry into the nuclear club, his intent to fire a missile at Hawaii is clearly meant as a demonstration of at least his ability to nuke the place. Without the possibility of such firepower, his rocket would be nothing more than fireworks, international entertainment, an action without a point. With an implied WMD however, he can force the South Korea, China, Japan and the U.S. back to the bargaining table in hopes of squeezing out foreign aid

He certainly does need this aid. His people might well be dying without it. According to The CIA World Fact Book's entry on North Korea ( "Large-scale international food aid deliveries have allowed the people of North Korea to escape widespread starvation since famine threatened in 1995, but the population continues to suffer from prolonged malnutrition and poor living conditions." The entry on that page also mentions such specific setbacks as the end of an attempt at a limited privatization of food production and the deleterious effects of recent, widespread flooding on the food supply. Wikipedia's page on North Korea cites her restriction of international trade as hampering economic growth. It probably also prevents them from buying food, making things even worse. North Korea has begun refusing food aid in favor of donations of means to improve their infrastructure (again, CIA World Factbook) but this probably does not lessen that nation's degree of need. It merely shows a refusal of immediate relief.

Unfortunately however, in pressuring for any sort of assistance through a nuclear threat, Kim is probably undermining undermining his own efforts to gain aid. Like many a president before him, Barrack Obama cannot afford to negotiate with terrorists; and, unlike previous terrorists, Kim will not be posing a single, theoretical resolvable problem, but a continuous one. To bow to such pressure would mean, not a mere instance of apparent weakness, but an ongoing subservience of American interests to a foreign power--an even more dire "proof" of American weakness. In the face of such a threat, Obama, may not even be able to cooperate with Kim in the future, though. After all, even the appearance of a diplomatic victory on Kim's part would have the same consequences internationally as such a victory in real life, and the world community is at least liable to interpret any foreign aid as the result of Kim's attempted nuclear extortion. In the absence of a political rival to Obama willing to negotiate with the North Korean government covertly in order to win a few diplomatic kudos as a peacemaker and a nation-tamer, Kim may in fact be facing a decrease in the U.S.'s willingness to send such aid. Kim is ultimately, then, posing a threat to his own country's interests.

Worse though, just by threatening to stage a nuclear attack, Kim is also raising the probability of a nuclear war, especially against his own country. At least by my reading of Van Creveld he may be. The mere idea of even a single warhead against a target so small as, say, Honolulu, brings the idea of such attack into play in the mind's of both common people and their leaders, and even such simple talk about the possibility of such an attack will also involve at least some acceptance of it, if only as a tragic possibility to be dealt with. Acceptance being the opposite of fear, deterrence will be lower, lessening any nuclear-armed nation's inhibition from deploying atomic weapons on its enemies, especially less powerful ones such as North Korea.

Kim, then, is a danger to the world and to his own nation in particular. I won't pretend to know how to deal with him, though. Diplomacy seems to be getting things nowhere, and military solutions may be futile. A nuclear assault on North Korea may well result in the same effect on deterrence as one from North Korea. A land war may result in the same situation as our country's previous conflict in that land: war with China. Any air strikes would have to be well-aimed enough to take Kim out, and to judge by a similar American action against Libya, we may not be likely to succeed. Assassination just might be an option, but only given both a realistic means to kill Kim and a less warlike successor. Failing to kill Kim would make him a hero, and a second Kim would simply use the threat of an American attack to unify his people in fear....

According to a recent news article, Kim may be grooming his son to be taking over his post after his death. Perhaps this son of a dictator may be a weak enough man to fear his father's plans or a smart enough one to abandon them. For those of us not reading the intelligence reports though, he may be our only hope. Let's hope he is a realistic one--one too realistic to follow in his father's footsteps.

Posted by John Comerford at July 9, 2009 9:18 AM
Comment #284390


Your phrasing reminded me of Dr. Strangelove(or how I stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb), but you bring home the very real threat of brinksmen like Sadam Hussein and Kim Jong Ill.

I don’t recall seeing you post before, so even if I’m some what late, welcome to Watchblog.

The sad truth is that even China is somewhat powerless in this situation. Our best hope is that they will deal with this situation before we have to, and continue their slow path toward greater openness, although, that at times seem more like molasses in winter.

Posted by: gergle at July 12, 2009 9:24 PM
Comment #284401

Welcome to watchblog John. John just in he’s Kim has one of the worse kinds of cancer to treat so ?? “” SEOUL, South Korea – North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has life-threatening pancreatic cancer, a news report said Monday, days after new images of him looking gaunt spurred speculation that his health might be worsening following a reported stroke last year.

The 67-year-old Kim was diagnosed with the cancer around the time he was felled by a stroke last summer, Seoul’s YTN television reported, citing unidentified intelligence officials in South Korea and China.””

Posted by: Rodney Brown at July 13, 2009 1:29 AM
Comment #284439

Rodney, but, his son is waiting in the wings, and they still have nukes and missiles, some of which actually work as expected. Which has China a bit nervous and which gives the international community some negotiation room to effect China’s agency in containing N. Korea’s ambitions.

Posted by: David R. Remer at July 14, 2009 12:48 AM
Comment #284456

Yes just Like Kim was groomed to replace his father in the 1990s, I don’t know much about the son I hope he’s a little wiser and a little more stable than his dad and thinks more about the people in his country.

Posted by: Rodney Brown at July 14, 2009 1:17 PM
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