Is Kim Jong Un, the cartoonish presi- dent of impoverished North Korea, simply crazy, or is he, as many people seem to think, crazy like a fox?
That question looms large as the situation in the Korean peninsula worsens with each aggressive pronouncement from Kim. This week, North Korea threatened to unleash missiles armed with “diversified nuclear” weapons on neighboring South Korea and the U.S., while the General Department of Atomic Energy announced it will restart its long-shuttered plutonium reactor and increase production of nuclear weapons material.
The reactor, which began operations in 1986, was shut down in 2007 in the midst of international nuclear disarmament talks. Those talks have since stalled — and the impasse has led to economically depressed North Korea’s belligerence. Kim, like his late father, Kim Jong Il, has used tensions with United States and its ally, South Korea, to distract his people from the misery of their lives. Widespread shortages of food and medicine have led to thousands of deaths from starvation and disease. Children and the elderly are at greatest risk.
Yet, the government spends most of its money — China is its leading benefactor — on the military and the development of nuclear weapons. Such irresponsible behavior leads to the question, why? Kim cannot be so delusional as to believe that his country will defeat the United States in a war, and that this nation will sit idly by while the North attacks the South.
South Koreans aren’t taking the state of war declared by Kim seriously, if interviews conducted by The Guardian newspaper are a reflection of the general attitude.
“Kim Jong-un is crazy,” Josiah Jung, a 22-year-old student, told the British newspaper. “He runs a poor, hungry country … his threats are just talk designed to get food and money. But if North Korea bombs any part of South Korea, like it did in 2010, this time we should respond with an all out attack.”
That impatience is global. The United Nations has made it clear that North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are not to be taken lightly, and has imposed crippling economic sanctions.
Even China, which is keeping the country from an economic collapse, has warned Pyongyang that its defiance is a losing strategy.
To date, however, those warnings have been ignored. If the Chinese government is committed to preventing a war in the Korean peninsula and avoiding the guaranteed fallout from such a conflict, it will issue an ultimatum to Kim: Abandon your reckless behavior and join the international community, or find yourself another benefactor.
The one thing Kim cannot risk is having his people reach the point of total despair. Without anything to live for, the North Koreans could rise up against the government and not even the million-man army would be able to stop the swarm of angry, hungry citizens.
Thus far, being in China’s good graces has enabled Kim to soften the blow of economic dislocation brought on by the sanctions.
The Obama administration has called on North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions and warned it would be “extremely alarming” if Pyongyang follows through on a vow to restart its plutonium reactor.
The White House is taking steps to ensure it has the ability to defend itself and its allies, said spokesman Jay Carney. In addition to participating in joint military maneuvers with South Korea — B-2 stealth bombers and the Cold War-era B-52 bombers made their presence known — anti-missile defenses and other armament have been dispatched to the U.S. territory of Guam. If the North unleashes its missiles, Guam and, perhaps, Hawaii would be the extent of their reach.
While Kim’s petulance is trying the patience of many world leaders, a preemptive strike against the North is not justified at this time. The president is obviously trying to prove to the military leaders that he has what it takes to stand up to the nation’s perceived enemies.
He is also trying to win the approval of the population.
If Kim wants Washington to engage in disarmament-for-aid talks, he should stop behaving like a spoiled child and start being the adult his people expect him to be.
For instance, his decision to prevent South Korean workers from crossing the border to get to their jobs in an industrial park operated jointly by the two countries is shortsighted, at best.
North Koreans will be the ultimate losers.
The idea that the United States and other industrialized nations have grand designs on North Korea is simply ridiculous.
The United Nations has consistently said that it is worried about people who are literally starving to death and succumbing to diseases that are easily cured in the west.
President Kim Jong Un may have to be taught a lesson, but now is not the time.