Saturday, March 12, 2016

The problem of North Korea

In the debates between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, there has been a recurrent discussion of involvement in "regime change" in the past and the subsequent unintended consequences in many cases.  On the face of it, in recent years the U.S. has made a complete mess in this area, most notably in the entire episode of Iraq, as well as one in one in Honduras that a constantly reminds me of, which is ongoing.

North Korea is potentially a huge problem.  Its only significant ally is China, and while it is clear that China wants to maintain North Korea within its sphere of influence there is increasing evidence that China is not comfortable with the governance and provocations of Kim Jong-un, the 34 year old "supreme leader".  Nor should they be.

In the New Yorker book "The 40's", which is a fascinating and large compilation of many of the magazine's features during those years, the entire full issue article of "Hiroshima" by John Hersey was included.  Read, maybe skimmed, in college, a reread recently was compelling and disturbing, and that was the least advanced nuclear weapon ever made.  To think that this type of weapon is now in the hands of the immature, supposedly already alcoholic and diabetic Kim Jong-un is unnerving.

As is widely known, North Korea is more of a closed cult than any other nation on earth.  It is said that the people there have been so completely blocked from access to the rest of the world that when they occasionally find something on the internet or elsewhere that shows them a different picture, they believe that is propaganda designed by another nation to influence them.  An amazing book about this is "Without You, There Is No Us" by Suki Kim. The book has been commented on here previously, and it details a year that she managed to spend teaching in the country.

The book conveys the fact that the "supreme leader" is truly thought to be, learned to be from birth by the public, someone with near divine powers and enlightenment.  His word is revered and what he says cannot be questioned.  Kim Jong-un has by some accounts had over 70 top officials in the country executed in his short reign, for reasons mostly unknown.  It seems clear that he cannot be questioned by anyone, and no one is likely to even dare think of a coup.  That would not only be dangerous, but also could topple the apple cart of the entire country if the supreme leader were not seen as infallible by the public.

What is clear is that we cannot discount the fact that North Korea has the technology, engineers, and scientists to advance their already well under way nuclear ambitions, despite some of the colossal fiascoes with their missile tests in the past.  This is one thing that they invest in(other than the finest of food, drink, and luxury intems for the absolute top leadership) , far more than in the basics for the general population.

If there were ever an example where regime change would seem appropriate this is it.  Anything the U.S. could do almost certainly must be done in concert with China if that were possible.  They must know, the U.S. must know, where all of their production and testing facilities are likely to be.  What would the world think if one morning we woke up to hear that Tokyo or Seoul had been hit by an atomic weapon launched by North Korea.  The possibility has never been greater than now, with the possibility that their unstable young leader could act on a whim given his growing megalomania.  Do we just cross our fingers and wait?

Postscript:  "The 50's" is another exceptional book of essays published by The New Yorker.


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