US President Trump’s “Fire and Fury” Not Enough for Nemesis Kim Jong-eun

FILE - In this Aug. 10, 2017, file photo, a man watches a television screen showing U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea. North Korea said Monday, Sept. 11, 2017 it will make the United States pay a heavy price if a proposal Washington is backing to impose the toughest sanctions ever on Pyongyang is approved by the U.N. Security Council this week. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)

In this Aug. 10, 2017, file photo, a man watches a television screen showing U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea. North Korea said Monday, Sept. 11, 2017 it will make the United States pay a heavy price if a proposal Washington is backing to impose the toughest sanctions ever on Pyongyang is approved by the U.N. Security Council this week. (Photo : AP/NEWSis)

Like a long-simmering earthquake, North Korea’s latest nuclear and missile tests have led to a dangerous confrontation between the untested leaders of two enemy states whose feverish sabre-rattling has conjured up the spectre of a new holocaust in the Korean Peninsula.

The fallout has escalated tensions between a Stalinist regime in Pyongyang and a Republican administration in Washington, and its treaty allies in Seoul and Tokyo which are protected by the superpower’s nuclear umbrella.

Without any experience in foreign affairs except for a flair in corporate deal-making, an elderly and ebullient Donald Trump initially thought he could sit his younger protagonist Kim Jong-un down and over hamburgers bring him to heel-in the protracted nuclear stand-off.

Alas, Uncle Sam’s overtures was brushed aside by the rising son of the Kim family dynasty who displayed his father’s uncompromising rebuff of any US pressure to ditch their nuclear ambitions. Instead, the new commander-in-chief of the North Korean People’s Army, Kim Jong-eun, stepped up his nuclear and missile tests, since exploding a hydrogen bomb on September 9, 2016.

His record sixth nuclear test, including a thermonuclear device on Sept. 3 that is more powerful than the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6,1945, is as unprecedented as it is unexpected given that the Swiss-educated successor to Kim Jong-il, following his death in 2011, initially had fanned hopes of change.

But a chip of the old block, he characteristically did not break away from his father’s s Songgun (Strong Military, Prosperous Nation) ideology, used by the Dear Leader to counter South Korea’s economic prowess.

Not only that, Kim Jong-eun is outdoing his predecessor by taking a devil-may-care attitude in trying to realise the family dynasty’s dream of becoming a nuclear-armed state. In his single-minded drive, Kim seems to think nothing of defying the world’s super power, the US, nor of alienating a key ally, China. He is prepared to pay the price of tough economic sanctions and showed he is not intimidated by Trump’s launch of cruise missiles on Syria for crossing a US red line against the use of toxic gas on civilian populations.

On August 9, as the US aircraft carrier, Carl Vinson Strike Group, sailed towards the Korean peninsula and as Asian stocks fell while the region watched in anticipation of an impending US missile strike on Pyongyang, a feisty Kim reacted to Trump’s warning of “fire and fury” by threatening to fire intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) at the US military base on the Pacific island of Guam, a move that was certain to spark massive US retaliation.

And in a calculated response to the start of the annual US-Republic of Korea’s war games in August, North Korea first fired three short-range ballistic missiles and followed it up more provocatively with a long-range missile that flew over Japan before landing in the Pacific Ocean.

Is Kim “begging for war?” asked a befuddled US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, attempting to read his mind. The US might have good intelligence on North Korea’s nuclear reactors and missile sites, but the same could not be said of its knowledge or understanding of Kim Jong-un’s state of mind and motives.

But a close observer of North Korea, veteran UN diplomat Oh Joon sees Kim’s perceived quixotic behaviour as a ploy at power.

Noting that third-generation power transition is problematic, the distinguished former ROK Ambassador to the United Nations said: “Kim Jong-un became the leader not because of any feat but because of blood ties.

“He needs to earn legitimacy by showing he is a strong leader who could stand up to the United States, the regime’s Enemy No. 1, for its past depredations during the 1950-53 Korean War.

“It’s a big achievement for North Korea to become the world’s 9th nuclear power.”

The DPRK is ruled by a political dynasty founded by Kim Il-sung who was succeeded by Kim Jong-il.

Beyond legitimacy, Kim Jong-un also fears regime change.

Domestically, he has acted to get rid of any potential rival who could replace him as leader. In 2013, he executed his uncle Jang Song-taek for treason for allegedly allying himself with China and for contemplating Chinese-style economic reforms. In March this year, he is believed to have been behind the assassination of his exiled elder half-brother, Kim Jong-nam in Malaysia, deemed as an alternative Kim dynasty leader.

Externally, Kim Jong-un feared a US-led invasion to remove him from power. He and his military advisers have watched with alarm the US invasion of Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein and of Libya to remove Muammar Gaddafi. The two strongmen succumbed because they lacked weapons of mass destruction. The DPRK supremo does not want to suffer the same fate by seeking to build up nuclear-tipped missiles to deter any US regime-change invasion. Pyongyang is paranoid about the US-ROK annual military exercises which involves computer simulated attacks on North Korea.

Kim is engaged in a do-or-die game of survival. He reckons that to survive he must push ahead with tests to perfect delivery of ICBMs with nuclear warheads as a deterrence against US pre-emptive strike or full-scale invasion.

But Oh Joon, who now teaches at the Peace and Welfare Department of Kyunghee University in Seoul, added that there is a catch here, “Kim could not go on indefinitely with his nuclear and missile tests. At some point, he would have to stop,” he said.

Tactically, however, Trump would not want to give Kim time to test and perfect nuclear-tipped inter-continental ballistic missiles that could possibly hit the US mainland.

“Kim Jong-un will face his moment of truth, that is, he could not stay in power by showing nuclear capability,” said Prof Joon, adding, “The Korean people need to eat rice, not nuclear bombs. [Kim] has to pay attention to economic development. North Korea is wasting resources carrying out nuclear tests. The regime must have a goal and not be doing it for fun. Pyongyang already has mid-range missiles but is trying to develop long-range missiles with small nuclear warheads. Once this is achieved, they will still stop and turn to economic development.”

Prof Oh said he had met North Korean defectors and learnt that a lot of people in the North watched Korean dramas on DVDs players imported from China through the black market.

“That means they know what is happening in the world outside the hermit state. The political elites would demand that the regime turns its attention to the economy,” he said.

To be sure, Prof Oh said it is not proper for the North’s generation-X anointed leader to validate his power by the nuclear way. He pointed out that North Korea had signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty under Kim Jong-il in 1985 to gain Soviet nuclear technology know-how for peaceful purposes. He has since violated the treaty by seeking to develop nuclear weapons. The United Nations has condemned such actions illegal as it would set a bad precedent to allow North Korea in developing a nuclear arsenal.

Over the past two decades, successive US administrations from George W. Bush to Bill Clinton and to Barak Obama have resorted to a mix of punitive economic sanctions and energy aid to cajole Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear goals. But the stick-and-carrot efforts failed to stop Pyongyang from its nuclear race.

Even deal-maker Trump is becoming frustrated in his doomsday threats like this latest warning: “It will be a very sad day for North Korea” if the United States takes military action against it.”

Waiting for Kim to run out of steam in his nuclear escapades is out of the question for the fiery US Commander-in-Chief who is now convinced that confrontation is the only way to jerk the reckless Kim to his senses in giving up his nuclear dream. In the meantime, Trump pushes for tougher economic measures targeting North Korea’s oil and gas imports, interdicting its supply ships.

Realistically, a US surgical strike on Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile facilities would lead to catastrophic all-out-war. The human toll could be as high as one million, according to the US commander of US forces in Korea, General Gary Luck (who said this in 1994 when President Clinton was mulling over a missile strike on the DPRK). In the end, President Jimmy Carter saved the day, when at the critical junction he met Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang and hammered out a deal to diffuse the crisis.

On the other hand, the “strategic patience” formula would let time do all the healing. There is ancient wisdom behind it. The Western medical method of dealing with a boil on the skin is to excise it. The Oriental solution is to leave the boil to grow and ripen to breaking-point, discharging the puss

And this seemingly effortless solution to the boiling nuclear impasse dovetails with the sweet deal President Trump first thought he could pull off by having a nice chat over hamburgers with his nemesis, Kim.

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