Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Monday, April 1, 2013

Kim Jong Un = Saddam Hussein Redux?

On March 27, 2013, North Korea declared that it finally cut off "the last remaining military hot lines with South Korea." At this point, however, the world reacted with a collective yawns and shrugs. In fact, many analysts seem to concur that this is just another boring and tiresome "escalation," which as this Foreign Policy article notes, is more of a stylistic move than a substantive one.

Perhaps, though North Korea could still inflict some pain on South Korea, most notably its ability to bombard Seoul, which lies so close to its border. Yet, most South Koreans seem to shrug it off, looking at North Korea's latest provocations as a way to ask for more money and food, not dissimilar to a reaction toward a child's tantrums.

Thus the question: why would a regime keep bluffing until its threats are no longer credible?

I believe North Korea's threats are actually a symptom of the regime's weaknesses and Kim Jong Un's desperation to gain international legitimacy, which benefit him domestically.

As a new inexperienced leader who gained the position of ultimate power in North Korea simply through the death of his father, the North Korean regime and Kim Jong Un is desperately trying to increase his stature domestically. First, even before the death of his father, the regime had agreed to sink a South Korean navy corvette, simply to show him as a strong military leader, willing to take risk. Then, he tried to show the North Koreans that he was another benevolent leader and father, with a disastrous result.

Really can't resist to show this photo
The failed missile test, followed by a successful one later, and a nuclear test was supposed to cement Kim Jong Un's position and show the outside world that North Korea meant business, that they had to take North Korea seriously -- including giving him more food and money. Yet again, the reaction from outside world was more indignation and further sanctions, with even China showing its displeasure as North Korea's intransigence also disturbed Beijing's leadership transition.

What Kim Jong Un is looking for is a way to show his domestic audience that he is a true leader, feared by North Korea's enemies and allies alike. He has neither, which further undermines his position, forcing him to act more and more bellicose. Otherwise, his hold on the military could start to unravel. Moreover, with North Korea's economy in a mess, he is rapidly running out of food and money -- and he needs both desperately.

Therefore, I would make a bold prediction here that when push comes to shove, North Korea is actually incapable to walk the talk. In essence, he is another Saddam Hussein, who bluffed his ownership of weapons of mass destruction due to his fear that Iran (and his domestic opposition) would find out his weaknesses.

So rest assure, Austin. It is highly unlikely that Kim Jong Un can hit you, regardless of how much he wanted to due to your snub.

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