AT KIM JONG-UN’S age, any normal person would either be busy fending for himself in the world or trying hard to build a career. But Kim, who is yet to touch 40, is busy playing a dangerous game with nuclear weapons and Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs). Were it not for the acute danger this involves for the Korean peninsula, this crazed person would not be taken seriously anywhere.
There is, however, something macabre about a merry Kim as he gleefully looks at weapons and missiles made by scientists. Just days ago, pictures showed him laughing as his minions went about explaining the weapon at hand: a hydrogen bomb. The absurdity continued in the evening when North Korean TV broadcast the ‘happy news’—announced by the now-familiar ‘pink lady’ whose fake enthusiasm is infamous across the globe.
Situations where a country aims to get hold of nuclear weapons quickly move to two states: either the country in question is prevented from getting a nuke, or, having acquired such a weapon, it settles down, the acquisition being a sufficient deterrent to an enemy attack.
In the Korean peninsula, those seem like outdated theories from a book on nuclear strategy. Kim has the West—and other states in the area, including South Korea, Japan and perhaps even China—under threat. Seoul is just a few minutes’ strike for a nuclear-tipped missile from the North. Under the circumstances, the West has no ‘winnable’ military strategy without the risk of Seoul or Tokyo’s annihilation. The last ICBM tested by the Kim regime on July 30th can reach continental USA.
To add to this calculation is Kim’s own unstable disposition. At the slightest alleged ‘provocation’—for example, a routine military drill by US and South Korean forces—he decides to carry out a nuclear test or launch a missile to ‘warn’ these countries. This kind of overly paranoid behaviour by a nuclear-armed state has never been seen before.
There is no simple way out of this situation. Russia and China, the two neighbours with some influence over North Korea, suggest negotiations. But these have been tried for two decades now. In addition, Chinese and Russian geo-strategic aims in the region complicate matters further. In all this, Kim is getting away.