Kim’s death

Because N. Korea managed to obtain nuclear capability, it's become one of world’s biggest worries. Without the bomb it would be a non-entity.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il 311 r (photo credit: REUTERS)
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 borders.
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.
It is 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.
Nonetheless, its 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.
Now consider Iran.
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 bomb.
Ominous in this context is Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial.
“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 again.”
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.