North Korean leader Kim Jong-il 311 r.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Imagine a game in which you’re walking on the edge of a cliff chained by the
ankle to someone else. The first to cave into fear loses. What is the best
strategy for winning?
Well, one surefire way is to head straight for the cliff’s
edge. Increase the shared risk steadily, convincing your adversary that you are
crazy, that you are willing to die and take him with you. Your enemy will
inevitably give up. It is called brinkmanship and it works in the world of
foreign relations. Just look at North Korea.
Because Pyongyang has the
bomb, it has gotten away with bullying South Korea and intimidating large
swathes of Asia.
In March, 2010 Pyongyang sank a South Korean patrol
vessel, killing 46 on board. In November, 2010 it displayed a previously
undisclosed, state-of-the-art uranium enrichment facility to a visiting American
scientist and exchanged artillery fire with the South, killing two marines and
wounding 20 others.
Backing down to North Korean aggression emboldens the
country’s hardliners. Retaliation could do the same. And since North
Korea has the bomb, it cannot be taken lightly.
In the last year or so,
North Korea has been relatively quiet. However, the death of Kim Jong-il has
revived the old dilemmas and fears of dealing with a dictatorship that augments
its influence with nuclear capability.
How will North Korea succeed in
making the transferral of power to Kim’s virtually unknown youngest son, King
Yong-un? Uncertainty is rampant regarding the country’s nuclear intentions and
the prospects, if any, for a new relationship with the world beyond North Korean
Trepidation deepened when the South Korean news agency reported
that, before the announcement of Kim’s death – two days after the fact – North
Korea tested an unspecified number of short-range missiles.
abundantly apparent that the sole reason North Korea commands so much influence,
and arouses such fear, is because it has the bomb.
The country has
literally been sacrificed for the sake of developing its military – and atomic –
capabilities. In the process, many North Koreans have been reduced to near
starvation. The country has no real industry to speak of. It cannot offer
significant economic ties or technological advances.
policy of brinkmanship, backed up by its nuclear capabilities has put it on the
map. If not for its bomb, few in the world would be aware of the ailing Kim’s
death, reportedly the result of a heart attack.
Because North Korea
managed to obtain nuclear capability, it has become one of the world’s biggest
worries. Without the bomb it would be a non-entity.
Though its economy is suffering from international boycotts
designed to prevent it from developing the bomb, many countries, including in
Europe – attracted not only by Iranian oil, but also by its vibrant industries –
have been tempted to do business. Its people are relatively educated and
industrious. Even without the bomb, Iran has exerted a decisive influence in the
region, from Iraq and Lebanon to Gaza.
Imagine Iran with a
Ominous in this context is Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust
“I take Holocaust denial as Holocaust affirmation,” journalist
Christopher Hitchens, who passed away Thursday, once said of Iran’s leader.
“People who say it didn’t happen are people who wish it would happen
Now how is that for brinkmanship?
Kim was right when he said last
month that “a dangerous situation currently prevails in the Middle East, where a
new war could break out.”
But it is not because, as he claimed, the US
and Israel suffer from a “combative delirium” – rather it is because Iran is
liable to exploit nuclear capability to intimidate the region, like North Korea
has done on the Korean peninsula.
On the occasion of Kim’s death, with
all the uncertainties and fears it has aroused – including in neighboring
countries such as China, which has been so reluctant to impose sanctions on Iran
– the international community should meditate on the potential dangers of a
world in which the Islamic Republic has nuclear capability – and do everything
possible to prevent it from happening.