If you haven’t read about it in the papers, you’ve at least seen the memes. Yes, latest in the series of belligerent North Korean leaders, Kim Jong-Un, is threatening to wreak nuclear Armageddon on the world, or at least on South Korea and the United States, with perhaps far-reaching consequences on Japan and China (basically any nation member to the six-party talks, which define the parameters of North Korea’s bilateral interaction).
But this time it’s different, nothing like the previous hundred and one instances of DPRK claiming to unveil its nuke arsenal in all its shambolic glory. This time, Little Kim is irate – he’s been sanctioned to no ends, his intermediary Macau-based bank blacklisted by the meddlesome Americans, and his imports of luxury goods banned down to every last Dior handbag (Kim Jong-un’s wife was seen carrying a Christian Dior handbag worth over $1,500, the average North Korean’s annual salary). How on earth is a man supposed to pay for his plastic surgery and late-night drinking parties?
Snide remarks aside, on 30 March, the North declared a “state of war” on relations with the South. The one question on everybody’s mind is, “How are the bamboo curtains on this ruse of a democracy (that’s got nobody convinced) holding up?” One of the world’s most repressive and retrograde governments whose international commerce is partly confined to rumored clandestine nuke trade, North Korea is once again making a desperate attempt at using “strategic provocation” to pressure the US and other nations into commencing diplomatic negotiations (in the past, this has taken the form of shooting down a US EC-121 reconnaissance aircraft in the 60s). Further sanctions, coupled with an economy deteriorating since the 1990s when Soviet and Chinese aid came to a halt, have forced North Korea into the corner it finds itself in today. Makes one wonder if the DPRK is really just a victim of international neglect, having been shunned by the very powers it had pledged allegiance to.
So is this humanity’s darkest hour? Half of South Korea doesn’t seem to think so. In fact, most of its people have blown off Kim Jong-un as an attention-deprived jilted self-styled general (and probably the only general in the whole world with zero military experience). One woman felt the situation had become trite, a matter of “security fatigue”, while another termed it as “gaining bargaining chips for future negotiations.” President Obama on the other hand, can’t openly express such nonchalance, and would have us believe that chances of North Korea setting off its missiles any moment now are likely.
Pyongyang’s Asia-Pacific Peace Committee announced that the Korean peninsula is definitely heading towards thermonuclear war. The DMZ, contradicting its own soubriquet, is a high-strung minefield only 50 miles off Seoul, meaning South Korea’s capital could be easily vaporized. But needless to say, in the face of a future Korean War, the underfed and underpopulated DPRK and its bullish dictatorship couldn’t pull through. With the Chinese premier Xi Jinping quoting that no nation “should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gain”, the North is unlikely to receive any support for nuclear aggression.
Reports of an assassination attempt on Kim Jong-un by agitated citizens this March, and fighting between him and his half-brother, may also force the enaction of OPLAN 5029, US and South Korea’s ambiguous backup plan for dealing with a coup or outflow of WMD. At the end of the day, OPLAN is just America’s way of cleaning up its own mess, having introduced atomic weapons into Korea in the first place.
As collateral damage for the Cold War big guns, and then left to its own diabolical devices, North Korea is tactlessly inflicting self-harm. It’s a shame that its leaders take ascetism so far as to starve the people of their fundamental rights to flat-screens and Coca Cola, and accommodate them in gulags from a World War II dystopia. Nevertheless, DPRK is exercising political game theory to the “best” of its ability, all the while floundering to keep face as a hypothetical bigwig. All show and then no go, Little Kim? Behind it all is just the heartbreaking story of a son trying to live up to the legacy of his father and grandfather. But tethered to its own leash, the North is its own worst enemy.