The news cycles are full of information about Kim Jung-un of North Korea and his threats to nuke the United States. I have not paid too much attention to his threats, but I decided to learn a little bit more about him.
Kim was born on January 8, 1982-84 or July 5, 1984. There is little known for sure about this man, not even his birthday for certain. He is son and second child of Kim Jong-il (1941-2011) and his consort Ko Yong-hui. He became the leader of North Korea on December 28, 2011, after his father’s state funeral. He holds at least five titles. He also holds two degrees, one in physics and one as an Army officer.
The first leader of North Korea born after the nation was founded, Kim seems determined to hold onto his power. He ordered the execution of his uncle Jang Song-thaek in December 2013. He is believed to be behind the assassination of his brother Kim Jong-nam in Malaysia in February 2017.
Many people find it easy to think that Kim is a crazy lunatic for threatening to crush the United States. Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, South Korea, and the author of several books on North Korea, says they are mistaken. He claims that Kim is a survivor, just like his father and grandfather before him. He states that the nuclear program in North Korea is for defense and that Kim acts crazy on purpose.
Kim Jong Un sees the nuclear program as purely defensive. Conquering the South would be nice in theory, but this task is completely beyond his reach, both due to the U.S. commitment to protecting South Korea and Seoul’s own huge advantage in economic and technological power. He knows that any unprovoked North Korean attack against South Korea or the United States will end badly, perhaps in his death, and he is certainly not suicidal. However, he also presumes that no great power would risk attacking a nuclear state or sticking a hand into its internal strife – especially if it has delivery systems and a second-strike capability….
While North Korea’s nuclear program is defensive, it still makes sense to remind the world about its existence and use what President Richard Nixon once described as “madman strategy,” that is, to appear to one’s opponents to be irrational, volatile, and willing to disregard costs. That’s why North Korean propaganda uses such fiercely colorful language. When North Korean TV promises to “make Seoul into a sea of fire,” or threatens to nuke Canberra, or shows Kim Jon Un in front of a map of the United States with cities marked as targets of nuclear strikes, they are delivering the same message: “we are here, we are volatile, and will stop at nothing if our opponents do something threatening.”
It appears from Lankov’s article that Kim’s threats sound terrible but amount to nothing more than letting the world know that North Korea has the capability of sending nukes to other nations. He is basically saying, “Do not attack us or mess with us!”
I thought he might be trying to provoke an attack for some crazy reason, but I can understand why he feels the need to show power. As Lankov points out, Kim saw what happened to Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, and Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya and wants to protect himself and his nation from a similar circumstance. This explains his desire for nuclear ability and his show of strength.