Proving that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, North Korea’s 28-year-old leader Kim Jong-Un picked up where his late father Kim Jong-Il left off before his death Dec. 17, 2011: Threatening the U.S. Creating more sensational headlines, Kim doesn’t realize how the idle threats of nuclear war backfire, prompting its only ally, China, to endorse new U.N. Security Council sanctions. Unlike the old days of the Korean War [June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953], Kim can’t rely on 1,350,000 Chinese soldiers to fight the U.S. and South Korea to a standoff. While calling itself a “powerful and prosperous nation,” North Korea ranks toward the bottom of nominal international GDP rankings at 125th, compared with its South Korean neighbor at 15. With Kim’s latest threat of preemptive nuclear war against the U.S., Chinese U.N. Amb. Li Baodong pushed approved more sanctions against Kim.
Because the U.S. and South Korea went ahead with joint military exercises, North Korea accused Washington and Seoul of plotting nuclear war against the North. Announcing an end to the July 27, 1953 armistice, a North Korean general said March 5 that Pyongyang was scrapping its peace treaty. “Since the United States is about to ignite a nuclear war, we will be exercising out right to preemptive nuclear attack against the headquarters of the aggressor in order to protect our supreme interest,” North Korea’s Foreign Ministry on the KCNA official news agency. Brushed off as bluster and bravado, the U.S. State Department rarely dignifies idle, but all-to-frequent North Korean threats. Conducting its last nuclear test Feb. 12, North Korea insists it’s completed a functional nuclear arsenal. No nuclear experts believe North Korea has the delivery system to hit the U.S.
Kim’s recent threats should serve as a reminder to Israel that Iran’s gunboat diplomacy should be taken in a similar vein. Instead of publicly pushing for air strikes against Iran’s nuclear enrichment sites, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu should take Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s threat’s similarly as North Korea. While no one wants Pyonyang to develop nuclear capability, there’s little real risk of preemptive nuclear attack. Both North Korea and Iran seek nuclear weapons as a deterrent and way to blackmail the West into concessions. Taking Kim’s threats seriously would prompt a preemptive U.S. attack. White House and Pentagon officials know that political posturing doesn’t threaten U.S national security. Instead of overtly threatening retaliation or talking about “red lines,” Netanyahu should put Tehran’s idle chatter into a more realistic context.
Netanyahu makes a big deal about Ahmadinejad’s past remarks about “wiping Israel off the map.” Most Mideast experts interpret his remarks as not a threat to annihilate Israel but literally a failure to recognize Israel’s geographic place in the Middle East. However malignantly Netanyahu interprets Ahmandinejad, U.S. and Western intelligence officials have to evaluate Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Nuclear experts don’t believe Iran has the technical bomb-making or missile capability to directly threaten Israel. When the U.S. evaluates North Korean threats, they must also take into account North Korea’s nuclear and missile capability. With China on the U.S. side, North Korea has little capacity to threaten the U.S. Gone are the days when China fought North Korea’s battles, especially a war on the Korean Peninsula. State Department or Pentagon officials don’t overreact to Pyongyang’s threats.
When the new sanctions go into effect, Kim may feel backed into a corner. “These sanctions will bite and bite hard,” said U.N. Amb. Susan Rice. More sanctions have the backing to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who “sent an unequivocal message to [North Korea] that the international community will not tolerate its pursuit of nuclear weapons.” Pyongyang doesn’t pay attention to the U.N. or Washington when it comes to its nuclear program. Like Tehran, once identified in the “Axis of Evil” by former President George W. Bush Jan. 29, 2002, North Korea seeks nuclear capability to blackmail the U.S. and West into concessions. “Let’s keep our minds cool and keep focused on the need for the only possible rational course of action, and that is returning to six-party talks,” said Russian U.N. Amb. Vitaly Churkin, seeking to deescalate the rhetoric from North Korea and the West.
Whether admitted to publicly or not, Kim knows that it’s not 1950 when North Korea could count on China or Russia to defend its interests. With China the world’s No. 2 economic power, they’re not going to risk their newfound superpower status defending the North Korean despot against the U.S. “North Korea will achieve nothing by continued threats and provocation. These will only further isolate the country and its people and undermine international efforts to promote peace and stability in northeast Assia,” Rice told reporters. Since the end of Korean War, the U.S. and South Korea have lived in fear, not knowing when irrational elements would prevail on a fragile peace. With South Korea enduring the humiliation, threats and attacks from North Korea, Seoul isn’t too far off from retaliation. U.S. officials must restrain South Korea, while simultaneously, maintaining the peace.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.