May 27, 2003

North Korean Bad Boy Dangerous
by Donald G. Mashburn

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s nuclear blackmail attempts are idiotic, and typically Communist. His erratic behavior shows how dangerous inexperience coupled with Communist upbringing can be.

Kim’s father, Kim Il-sung, who founded the North Korean Communist nation, died in 1994. No one knew what to expect of the young Kim, since he had little exposure to the outside world. Some hoped he might be less intransigent than his father, particularly when the enigmatic, reclusive young Kim waited three years to take over the chairmanship of North Korea’s Communist party.

He had a reputation as a playboy who liked women and western whiskey. Many doubted he could become an effective leader, much less one who threatened nuclear retaliation if attacked, giving South Korea a case of nerves.

However, the erratic dictator has grown into his role, and has embraced the art of heavy-handed Communist “diplomacy.” His public outbursts, intended to intimidate South Korea and the United States, have brought him to the attention of the world.

You’d think even a pampered Communist leader would realize the sheer idiocy of nuclear threats, and attempts at nuclear blackmail. We have to remember, though, that the United States is dealing not only with a Communist mindset, but also one with little diplomatic experience.

Still, the United States and South Korea realize that, like it or not, they must deal with the North Korean Enigma.

By sensible standards, Kim should be wooing friends to help his impoverished nation. North Korea is one of the world’s most repressive regimes, and starvation is widespread. The general standard of living is worse than one would expect, even in a reclusive, Communistic dictatorship.

Against this background, Kim’s bluster about nuclear development and his threats of nuclear retaliation sound crazy, although typically Communist. But Kim is no idiot. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who met with him in 2000, said he is “perfectly rational and is isolated but informed.”

Whatever. Kim’s nuclear saber rattling has brought him some serious attention. Before the Iraqi war, Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said, “North Korea ... not only has nuclear capabilities, but it has the means to deliver them.”

And that’s what makes Kim Jong-il scary. It’s what makes the United States and South Korea exercise care in dealing with the enigmatic North Korean. It’s what makes it so important to enlist China’s help in keeping Kim on a sane path.

Firmness is needed. President Ronald Reagan – supported strongly by Britain’s Margaret Thatcher – won the Cold War against the Soviet Union through firmness and steadfastness. A Reagan-like firmness has shown up in President George W. Bush’s handling of North Korea.

That firmness is seen in the May 23 warning to North Korea from President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. The two leaders informed North Korea in plain language that any escalation of nuclear weapons development would result in “tougher measures” by the United States and Japan.

Even a reclusive dictator should get the message: No nuclear weapons will be tolerated on the Korean peninsula.

China may be key in keeping Kim on a leash. It was at China’s urging that Kim slowly opened up and began to more rationally deal with the outside world. He allowed some foreign agencies to help alleviate North Korea’s crippling famine, although he realized that photographs and word descriptions, showing the tragedy of starving North Koreans, would reach the outside world.

Kim also began to travel on a limited basis, to China and South Korea, and received some foreign dignitaries. Unfortunately, as Kim became more self-assured, he seemed more compelled to play the role of Communist strongman, which is the reason for concerns in places like Seoul, Tokyo and Washington.

Kim Jong-il must be made to see that nuclear weapons are not in his nation’s best interest. His blackmail efforts and threats are ill-advised and potentially dangerous. But they must be taken seriously, and rendered harmless if possible.

President Bush, by working with Japan and South Korea, is handling the North Korean problem the only way it can be handled sensibly.