Kim Jong-un a Korean Tarkin?
Following the recent sixteen-day stand-off between congressional Republicans and Democrats over an appropriations resolution, it has become quite apparent that the Obama administration, once fully in control and intent on cementing its legacy of trailblazing liberalism, has instead lost its ability to respond with purpose as it seemingly lurches aimlessly from one mishandled crisis to the next. Indeed, the way things are headed, history will not judge Mr. Obama’s second term kindly. The President’s display of indecision regarding the Syrian conflict (which, by the way, remains unresolved––people are still dying by the thousands even as the media applauds U.N. Resolution 2118 authorizing the confiscation of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons), along with his administration’s mismanagement of a $634 million effort to build a website for its signature policy achievement, Obamacare, have obscured his most recent foreign policy successes. These include the start of negotiations with Iran, long an enemy of the U.S., and with Syria, whose repressive government has expressed an uncharacteristic eagerness to broker for peace since consenting to Resolution 2118.
If ever Mr. Obama was in need of a political turnaround, it is now. Given, as shown above, that the President has had some success internationally, perhaps it would be in his political interest to treat with another long-standing enemy of the U.S., one that, from a certain perspective, is as immediate a threat to national security as was al Qaeda in the years leading up to 9/11. I speak of North Korea.
Why is North Korea such an imminent threat? Well, besides maintaining a standing army of roughly 1.1 million soldiers, most of whom are committed to the state’s hyper-xenophobic juche ideology, the North is suspected of having as many as 27 nuclear warheads. These warheads, though as yet unable to be mounted on long-range missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland (Hawaii may, however, be within striking distance), can most definitely be used against U.S. military personnel stationed in South Korea, Guam, and Japan.
Further alarming is the fact that, unlike other known nuclear states, whether North Korea has taken the appropriate steps to ensure that its nuclear weapons are secure is unknown. In the U.S., as in all other acknowledged nuclear states, the President alone has the jurisdiction to use nuclear weapons, but only at the behest of long-established, strictly defined protocols; simply put, a leader of a nuclear state cannot use nuclear weapons on a whim, and so the inherent rationality of the institution appropriately restrains the occasional irrationality of the individual. In North Korea, however, Kim Jong-un’s rule is presumably absolute, a notion affirmed by a rumor that he had his ex-girlfriend executed to preserve his wife’s reputation. Were Kim suicidal, possessed by delusions of grandeur, or otherwise incapable of coming to terms with the knowledge that he alone could irrevocably change the world at the slightest push of a button, it is very possible, perhaps even likely, that an order from him to launch nuclear missiles against his enemies would be summarily obeyed.
There is, of course, a chance that Kim does not enjoy unquestioning loyalty amongst those around him. It may still be that the North’s military in fact operates according to strict protocols. However, that we simply do not know is worrisome in itself. Even at the height of the Cold War, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union each had tens of thousands of nuclear missiles aimed at one another, there was a mutual understanding between the two superpowers that neither wanted their ideological struggle, vast in scope as it was, to germinate into a nuclear holocaust, and therefore had each done their utmost to ensure that their nuclear weapons were completely secure.
In closing, that a nation as bellicose and reclusive as North Korea should have nuclear weapons is intolerable. For a man whose mental state is unknown, and who bears no responsibility to his people, to be entrusted with weapons of the worst sort is frightening to say the least. It is imperative that the U.S. intercede. However, the manner in which the U.S. does so must be carefully considered, for Kim Jong-un might respond with an aggression born of desperation should he discover that the U.S. is sabotaging his rule. The delicacy of this situation may call for a diplomatic solution, one that has the U.S. working with Kim to maintain his grip on power in exchange for a series of concessions from the North regarding its nuclear weapons program and numerous humanitarian rights offenses. Rather than working to depose Kim, which might give him reason to use his nuclear weapons, the U.S. should, at least for the time being, bring Kim into the fold, after which it could open the North’s economy to the world, thereby allowing the nation’s starved population to enjoy a much-overdue reprieve. In the past, the U.S. has worked with such reprehensible characters as Saddam Hussein, Manuel Noriega, Osama bin Laden, Hosni Mubarak, and Bashar al-Assad, so why not Kim Jong-un?
Note: The title is a reference to Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin, a fictional character in the “Star Wars” universe who, as commander of a moon-sized space station called the Death Star, oversaw the destruction of the planet Alderaan.
Copyright © 2013 Elliot Silverberg. All rights reserved.