Maybe you are like me and wondering “is this guy just nuts?” You have to wonder what is going on in his mind, as you also wondered what was going on in the mind of his father and his father’s father. It’s all about a point of reference.
For many diplomats and military analysts, the latest rhetoric from Kim Jong Un, the erratic leader of North Korea, could be an effort by Kim to establish support and allegiance among his own people. Kim’s latest action was to shut down a key military hotline between the governments of North and South Korea.
It is no secret that Kim’s North Korea is an impoverished nation. His people have been repressed; they are known to be impoverished and even starving. Experts say he is under pressure to do something to take his people’s minds off of the harsh realities of life and give them a greater purpose. Many were hopeful that his youth and his education abroad would lead him to reach out to the rest of the world and lessen or reverse some of the anti-West policies of his grandfather and father. That doesn’t appear to be happening.
What has Kim done in the last month or so?
- Conducted a third Feb. 12 nuclear test against the wishes and warnings of the international community.
- Increased the combat-readiness level of its artillery forces. (Among Kim’s threatened targets are US military bases on Guam and Hawaii.)
- Promised to shred the 1953 armistice agreement and shut off the hotline at the border region.
- Made a spectacular announcement that N. Korea reserves the right to conduct a preemptive nuclear strike against Washington or S. Korea.
The US has not backed away from Kim’s incendiary remarks. Just a day after Kim cut the military hotline with S. Korea, the US flew two B-2 stealth bombers over S. Korea as a part of a military exercise. In an officially released statement the US military said it demonstrated its forces could conduct “long-range, precision strikes quickly and at will.”
The two nuclear-capable planes flew from Whitman Air force Base in Missouri to South Korea as part of a “single, continuous” round trip mission during which they dropped “inert munitions on the Jik Do Range”, according to the US military statement.
The history of conducting military drills on the Korean peninsula is a key to understanding the disagreement between N. Korea and the West. Previous US administrations have acknowledged a large and troubling gap in understanding between Washington and Pyongyang about the purpose of conducting military drills and maneuvers.
N. Korea is a military state. In 1950, it put into action a plan that concealed large-scale military movements toward S. Korea. In what it termed “a training exercise” several participating divisions headed south for Seoul, which set off the Korean War. The West is skeptical about Pyongyang’s “military drills.” N. Korea, for their part, seems to be wired to view the annually scheduled joint military exercise between S. Korea and the US as a provocation to war. The mistrust between the two sides is huge; accordingly, the yearly rhetoric military posturing can quickly escalate, as it has this year.
Under past US administrations, and most recently with President Clinton, the US agreed to suspend the joint military drills and provide much-needed food and other aid that N. Korea desperately needed. Pyongyang would always ratchet up their propaganda and then back off peacefully as concessions were made on the part of the West. The result was always peace, if not a distrustful one.
The uneasiness in the world right now concerning the Korean peninsula is mostly about what this young man at the head of the N. Korean state means to do. Will he learn to interact responsibly with the rest of the world to seek a peaceful resolution to differences? Or, will he command a reckless military action and go further with his threats? How far down this road to war is he willing to go? Let’s hope not far.