The Petulant Child Who Leads North Korea

Kim Jong-Un is a petulant, spoiled brat who wants to get his way. He’s frustrated because other presidents and world leaders have caved in by this time.  He probably didn’t expect this reaction because he keeps making his own threats. And now, he’s in a box of his own making and the only way out is by backing down.

Think of a two year old who is sent to his room due to bad behavior and starts screaming in frustration. He/she keeps it up until the parents get tired of listening and sympathy/empathy for their child kicks in.  As a parent, you can’t give in because the child subconsciously sees it as a victory.

Kim Jong-un is not much different. Instead of pounding on the floors or the walls, he fires missiles into the ocean and makes threats aimed at the five government audiences he wants to reach.

One, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) knows sanctions imposed by the U.S. for not intervening and pressuring North Korea could cause its economy to collapse and cause widespread unrest and possibly civil war.  For the PRC’s leaders, maintaining power and regime survival is the core issue, not supporting North Korea. By making Kim Jong-Un a problem for the PRC, Trump is making it more difficult for Beijing to sit on the sidelines. And, they didn’t by telling Pyongyang, you’re on your own if you strike first.

Two, the Republic of Korea a.k.a. South Korea is now militarily superior to North Korea in almost every way except nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.  Kim knows the South Koreans have much more to lose than his Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in a war.  On the other hand, re-unification is very, very scary to the South Koreans because the cost – financial, cultural, political and social – is unknown.

Three, the U.S. We have the most to gain and lose.  If we resolve it peacefully without giving in, we win. If Trump’s strategy backfires and Kim Jong-Un fires a missile or missiles at Guam or Japan or the Aleutians, he has no choice but to react militarily.  The question is how?  The first question is the weapon nuclear, chemical, conventional or biological warhead?  If it is either or all four, then the U.S. has a another choice to make. Do we respond with one or many nuclear weapons? Or, do we respond with conventional weapons?  If the missile(s) have conventional warheads, what is our strategy?

Do we try to decapitate the regime or target his military capability? Finding Kim Jong-un will be hard, if not impossible and he’ll be well underground.

Attacking his nuclear reactors with conventional munitions risks a Chernobyl type disaster.  The DPRK’s military will go underground as soon as the missiles leave the launch pads.  So again, what do we hit and how?  This is problem the strike planners in the Pentagon have wrestled with for years.

Four, the rest of the world. Outside of Japan, Korea, Taiwan and probably the Philippines, most countries don’t have much skin in the game and would be reluctant to put financial or any kind of sanctions on the PRC to force their hand.  They, like the U.S. have become addicted to cheap Chinese manufacturing costs. Sanctions against the DPRK are already in place and the only lever left is ending their ability to export iron ore.

Fifth, last and not least are the hardliners within the DPRK.  What these guys fear most is collapse of the regime. Most are pariahs and would find it difficult to be granted asylum. If the current regime was overthrown by a faction wanting to have more normal relations with the world, they would be quickly killed or imprisoned.

The U.S. needs to stay the course. Let Kim Jong-Un rant and rave. And, as long as he doesn’t fire a missile at U.S. territory or an ally or start a war he knows he will lose, we keep him in locked in his room. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll come out with a smile on his face and change his behavior. We can always hope.

Marc Liebman

August 2017

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