Kim Jong-Un: Crazy, or Crazy Like a Fox?

This undated picture released by North K

It pains me to say this, but I think that today for the first time since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 (a great year for music, as well as geopolitics) we have a greater than 10% chance of a nuclear war this year.


Why? Well an unpredictable leader of a poor and desperate nation has ripped up the fragile armistice that ended the Korean War, and  is literally threatening pre-emptive nuclear war in language more often seen in cliched B-movies:

If we push the button missiles will turn Washington, the stronghold of American imperialists, and the nest of evil, into a sea of fire.

While estimates of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities remain low, meaning that it is highly likely that any nuclear attack on South Korea or Japan or America would be intercepted and retaliated — and while the United States remains totally dismissive of North Korea’s threats — the fact that the global intelligence communities got Iraq so devastatingly wrong is worrying. What if our estimates of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities are equally wrong, but in the other direction?

Is it possible that Kim Jong-Un has some cards up his sleeve, or are his threats just the ravings of a madman? For example, most American estimates of North Korean nuclear capability focus on the limited range of their intercontinental ballistic missiles. But what about the possibility that they could have already placed nuclear devices in the United States as an insurance policy against future events? After all, if it is possible that drug cartels can successfully ship billions of dollars of drugs through the porous US-Mexican border, is it not possible that other contraband could have been shipped through including North Korean bombs? (One problem with this theory, however, may be that North Korea may have great difficulty maintaining an external intelligence network, as North Koreans tend to defect at any opportunity they get)

And could North Korea have armed Iran as an insurance policy? After all, recent reports suggest that Iranian officials have apparently been present for recent North Korean nuclear tests. While Iran’s own nuclear program is a totally unsuited to the manufacture of nuclear weapons, and while there is no evidence that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, it stands to reason how both nations might be prepared to share resources as an insurance policy against common enemies.

However, it seems extremely unlikely that any North Korean insurance policy could prevent its destruction if it chose to attack the United States, Korea, or Japan, especially with nuclear weapons. Yes, it may be possible for them to cause damage especially on the Korean peninsula, and perhaps even on the North American continent, but this will probably be limited by the United States’ overwhelming force. And even if Kim Jong-Un is totally irrational and prepared to die in a storm of hellfire, it seems unlikely that the North Korean military structure will just let that happen. While I am no expert on the inner workings of the North Korean military, for reasons of rational self-preservation, it seems more likely that Kim Jong-Un would be removed by military coup — or perhaps even by China — before a unilateral pre-emptive nuclear strike on South Korea, Japan or the United States was carried out.

Nonetheless, the United States may wish to change direction. It is clear that sanctions have failed both in preventing North Korea acquiring nuclear weapons, and in easing the suffering of the starving and impoverished North Korean people. Given the huge potential costs of a nuclear skirmish in East Asia (specifically, potential loss of economic activity in Korea, Japan and China — three of the largest economies in the world) perhaps the United States and South Korea should consider carrots instead of sticks — offering large-scale business investment, technology, amnesty and support in exchange for North Korea giving up its nuclear arsenal and moving away from belligerence.

27 thoughts on “Kim Jong-Un: Crazy, or Crazy Like a Fox?

  1. The US needs to convince China to stop backing North Korea and indeed, actively seek Korean unification. That’s really the only long term solution here.

    Also, the recent North Korean shenanigans have only further confirmed the ineffectiveness of the US’s pivot towards Asia.

  2. IMO, he’s not a likely threat. I mean, we can assign %s all day long but the matter of fact is: “Is he going to use a nuclear bomb or isn’t he”. There’s no using 10% of a nuclear bomb. Its either 0% or 100%.

    But we have to realize he is playing “cukkoo”. Its the only tactic NK really has. If he acts all rational, then states would have no reason to fear him. By fear I mean worry about aggressive action. Its kind of like a reverse-psychology “big stick” policy.
    NK knows it cannot survive a battle w/ the West & I’m sure China would HATE it if they disrupted things. I mean, a war would probably send trade plummeting and result in a slow down in East Asia.

    I think you expressed it well in your 2nd to last paragraph. It wouldn’t make any rational sense.

    As for a US attack from within….
    I’m sure you know the 2 main types of methods used for a nuclear bomb
    The bomb would have to be a “gun type” for it to be “detonable”,
    otherwise, an ‘implosion type’ method would just not be plausible b/c of the sophistication required to set it off.
    Dont get me wrong, a gun type would cause damage, but If I remember correctly, It wouldn’t cause as much damage as an implosion type bomb. And the fact that you need a solid amount of highly-enriched uranium makes it very unlikely that a NK terrorist group could sneak that much in.

    It’s been a while since I went over these, so hopefully I didn’t mix them up.
    By the way, I like your approach to NK. I would love it for their to be investment & growth there. The people have suffered long enough. But is NK ready for openness/expansion?

    • Dont get me wrong, a gun type would cause damage, but If I remember correctly, It wouldn’t cause as much damage as an implosion type bomb. And the fact that you need a solid amount of highly-enriched uranium makes it very unlikely that a NK terrorist group could sneak that much in.

      Yes, it would be very difficult even if they had the organisation on the ground and funds to run such an operation. However I think the main problem may be in maintaining an external intelligence organisation, simply because once a North Korean is out of North Korea, they tend to defect, and it seems quite unlikely with the sanctions that the regime can afford to pay external agents.

      By the way, I like your approach to NK. I would love it for their to be investment & growth there. The people have suffered long enough. But is NK ready for openness/expansion?

      I was thinking Dennis Rodman’s trip to see Kim Jong-Un might have been productive (although signs since then haven’t been positive). Kim has been exposed to Western culture. Initially he seemed more open to some Westernisation. Maybe he still is, and he is making all this noise so the West and South Korea changes tack (as I think they should have from the start) and switches from sticks to carrots.

  3. Hasn’t the openness/engagement approach been tried already? What an enigmatic place. You do have to admire the way they make giant pictures appear in quick succession with thousands of people using big flash cards, even if they are only more portraits of the Kims. And you never see anyone make a mistake, not with the kind of grim consequences that would follow.

    • Hasn’t the openness/engagement approach been tried already?

      Not with this Kim it hasn’t, and certainly not since nuclearisation. I think the West doesn’t want to look like it’s rewarding nuclear development, but we have to be realistic.

    • “Gangnam” I was thinking along the same line…. Kim Jung is NK Pop Culture…..
      Let the Chinese handle this one… it’s appears Dennis Rodman’s mission last month worked…. Don’t be surprised if Kim gets a new stylist..and has his launch codes revoked…
      April is the month of the annual birthday celebration, dance concert and military parade started by the father….add in the death of Hugo Chavez and its fiesta time in the north end.

        • Cultish leaders need reaffirmation from time to time.

          But the fact this leader is smiling while touching an Octopus tentacle tells me, psychologically, that he is immature, and does not have the nerves to do something as drastic. Look at the stone face generals in the boat. No one character line etched in their old faces. Real psychopaths. Who pulls the strings?

  4. Pingback: Kim Jong-Un: Crazy, or Crazy Like a Fox? | Fifth Estate

  5. In looking at North Korea, one might ask, whom does their ruling class have to fear? Not the U.S., South Korea, or Japan — the risks of a major operation against North Korea (war with China) would not be worth any possible reward. On the other hand, the U.S. and its clients would condone, if not applaud, a Chinese invasion of North Korea to replace their leadership. And it would serve many Chinese ruling-class interests as well. The nuclear weapons and the accompanying bluster, then, must be to defend North Korea against China.

    • You are right. In my opinion.

      North Korea is a Kingdom. The ruler has a choice. Lose the Kingdom or make veiled threats. China would not be able to stop a ICBM.

      He is posturing to get the best deal for North Korea. When you are that wealthy luxury goods do not mean anything. I mean what if he is a simple man? A benevolent ruler?

      Has anybody stepped in a North Korean’s shoes? One that defects may have consumeristic ideals ahead of spiritual or nationalistic ideals, so we can’t take their perspective as gospel for the North Korean Population.

      I mean when you are a child and you believe in Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, life is much happier. Even if you have to do unpaid chores to ensure you are fed and housed.

  6. The only interest that North Korea has for anybody is the fact that they have 24M potential consumers of cheap commodities/additional cheap labor. In a world where there is a massive glut of labor and productive capacity, nobody cares about this potential at the moment.

    Most of the positioning is geared towards the next round of economic growth where the above factors will most likely come into play. It seems unlikely that China will need more people anytime soon, so my money is on South Korea [the U.S.] to roll in when they need to secure dirt-cheap labor. After all, after being starved for a decade or two, how little would you be willing to work for?

    And as far as the military threat is concerned, I would assume that one of the aircraft carriers nearby would make short work of North Korea as the mission there would most likely be one of complete annihilation [non-nuclear]. They’ve had 60+ years to figure that one out.

  7. CHINA may decide it is in her interest to back reunification with South Korea as the head state. In that case Kim is not needed. I think they are working on EMP weapons and will launch from ships already in the Gulf or Pacific Coast. Nk could use a small rocket launched from a container ship or sub. Don.t pulse me bro.

    • “China ready to support reunification” WikiLeaks released cables in 2011 that were published in ” The Age” (Australia) indicating that secret talks between US and China intelligence/military had common objectives in NK beyond the nuclear weapon issue. I think unification is more likely than cross boarder military actions.

  8. i am noch claiming to know everything, but this guy is just responding to threats by the UN (which is the US). same with iran.

  9. It’s not about % but about time.

    Unlike S. Korea, Kim Jong-Un and his kingdom have little to lose so he has little to fear.
    Kim knows he’s merely a pawn of the superpowers but he thinks himself the smart little pawn with full sleeve of tricks. But slapping China’s face repeatedly by disrespect China besides testing nuclear and during the Chinese New Year too, he’ll very well get killed by being too bold and too tricky when the time comes because China will finally feel he’s not worth of it after all.

    Kim’s the perfect war ignite point when the world economy financial system fail next.
    With a United US friendly Korea partner beside Japan in the region, US can balance and contain China’s raising superpower in the world. And China can also counter play with the economic marketing partnership too.

    When the benefit is greater than the risk, why not pull out this annoying little nail called the Kim evil empire?

  10. InterContinental Missiles?Nah a sea container or thousands of airships bent on a mission the west especially the military laugh at North Korea’s hardware.80’s Migs and all that.I wouldnt as a pebble brought down a Giant!Looking at the uniforms of the N Korean military they are wearing modern boots and modern clothing not unlike the SS of WW2.tHEY ALSO have a common purpose-wed all better watch out, has anyone asked what the N Korean problem is?America is just over the North Pole from N Korea.I hope America sends a diplomat instead of matbomb.Regards Peter.

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