Lunacy is no guarantee against its translation into action.
Inadvertently, the last issue of Duly Noted, by handling the “Coming Conflict”, landed in the realm of current affairs. The unexpected updating came about through the newest tantrum of latest issue of Korea’s ruling Kim dynasty. Although accustomed to the inelegant performance of the regime, the latest trick to get attention has topped an impressive record. Deservedly, the tearing up the 1953 armistice, then the promise to reduce the successful South to a desert, finally threatening the USA with nuclear annihilation, has raised eyebrows. It also put embarrassed smiles on faces. This bashful reception of the frog blowing itself up to match in size the oxen is understandable. On the short-run, it might even justify the shrug of shoulders. Nevertheless, disbelieving amazement is not a reasonable reaction to the threat of annihilation. Those that threaten are a threat. Fancies and fantasies have a proven way to become realities.
Super-Stalinist North Korea is more than a communist monarchy. It suffers from a classical ailment of hereditary monarchies. Inbreeding causes the abilities of already degenerate rulers to deteriorate further. The Kim Dynasty follows the pattern. Power is handed from dubious father to unworthy son. The successor inherits the “apparat” of suppression and the forced labor camps that make Stalin’s original GULAG appear to be a vacation project operated by beginners. Bequeathed are also bloodthirstiness and a skewed view of the world.
North Korea’s excesses, her systematic violations of rules that the world community claims to hold high, are hard to ignore. Thanks to its mighty protectors, the dictatorship does not fill its diapers when the UN raises a warning finger. Even after the exit of the USSR, misbehavior has been dealt with by ignoring it with determined consistency. This had a “realpolitik” justification. Through its roots by the grace of the USSR, Russia rated as the godfather of the DPRK regime. After the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union, the “B-Team” of communism’s power elite continued to rule the successor state as newly minted “capitalists”. And then there was China. She profitably exploited the wild men left behind after the melting reduced the communist world to its core.
Apparently, and most shortsightedly, the more isolated and the nuttier the “Beloved Leaders”, the greater their use became. Oh, not as real partners but as crowbars to pry open other powers. Such as South Korea, Japan and especially the USA. These happen to be states with which schizophrenically, China is building a partnership. The benefits of cooperation are greater than actions that continue history in Japan’s case and that attempt to reassert influence over Korea.
Peking wishes to rise to the level of America. This is best accomplished with the latter’s consent than at the price of an enmity whose end is lost in the fog of a possible war. Cooperation, partnership and regulated-by-the-rules competition, imply not only the sharing of influence but also the mutual bearing of responsibility. Peking needs to control her dependent neighbor that is carelessly challenging the world order. China’s unwillingness to undertake what she can warrants unwelcome conclusions. Thus, China’s Ambassador should be cited to the State Department. From there he should be escorted to the Oval office where these matters are explained to him.
Here a general observation can be inserted. It is generally assumed that great powers push around and exploit their small puppet allies. In most cases, this may be the case. However, there are instances when the confrontation of major powers had been determined by the will of small allies that had a myopic view of the consequences of their seemingly local actions. If China feels inclined to back North Korea involved in what would otherwise be a local quarrel, then Peking and the world have a problem. The more eccentric the Kims, the more extreme their policy, the more China’s ability to decide when and where she wishes to draw her gun is reduced. The OK Corral might not be China’s preferred venue. However, “the Kim of the moment” can bring the OK Corral to China. Arguably, in 1914, the decision to enter a general war was not made in Petrograd but in Belgrade.
By canceling the armistice of 1953, furthermore, by menacing Seoul with annihilation, Pyongyang has overstepped a red line. The follow up, threatening explicitly another country with a nuclear attack is a transgression that creates its own singular mega-category. Just imagine the outcry if any other government, located outside the foam-rubber plated cell of an asylum, would do the same!
A special assessment of North Korea because of the mental condition of its leadership is understandable. Nevertheless, the resulting unlimited tolerance is a careless move in a dangerous game. “Even God changes to the other side of the street when a drunkard approaches” might be a wise proverb. In politics, retreat, leniency and “overlooking” does not work out well. Ignoring provocations leads to more provocation. The insanity of an idea is no guarantee that it will not be implemented. All it takes is a sick person endowed with the power of an irrational system and the unthinkable becomes the scourge of the world. Tolerance shown to the moron will encourage the escalation from words to action. Irrational people –as in the now carefully ignored pre-history of WW2 - do not act according to their rationally perceived interest. This gives them the initial advantage in conflicts that they might lose - or win. Frequently, the sane encourage the deranged to make policy according to lunacy’s blueprint. True, folly raised to the level of policy might include its own defeat. This is will not be a consolation for those that will have to pay the price of belated resistance.
Crazy Kim is threatening to nuke all of us. So do the Mullahs. Others might have the same intent paired with the wisdom to keep silent. That Kim still lacks the means to implement his threats is not an argument against striking back according to the magnitude of the verbal threat.
If and when effective action is considered, be prepared for the counsel of “moderates” as defeatists like to tag themselves. They will assert that sanctions will “radicalize” Pyongyang and undermine the “moderates” there.
While we wonder about how the berserk can be additionally radicalized, we should remember a matter that can be ignored but not avoided. It is that nuclear means are easily developed. How the outcast, driven by phobias, would use them is not in doubt. Imagine the situation once this element gets hold of the hardware it needs to have, wants to have, and will eventually have. Given the announced intent and the magnitude of the challenge, the time to act is before the alarm sounds.