Miscalculation by the inexperienced dictator of North Korea is a real danger, as he flails around in a sea of propoganda, desperate to prove to his starving nation that he's the Man. Actually he's an idiot.  

If the spectre of the well-fed baby dictator of North Korea spewing colourful rhetoric towards the big bad West was not so serious, it would indeed be very funny.

Kim Jong Un has not surprisingly been the fodder of cartoons over the last few weeks - short and squat, staring skyward towards an over-elongated ‘Uncle Sam’ and waving his outstretched pudgy finger in defiance. “Take that” he is warning, “before I obliterate you all”.

Alice in Wonderland has nothing on this level of absurdity.

Even Denis Rodman’s recent basketball diplomacy went only so far. The basketball court proved no match for that of the jester in a world of cult personality.

In the last few days the combative bombast from Kim has ratcheted up a few more notches and on top of declaring his kingdom to be on a war footing, Kim has vowed to restart the country’s nuclear reactor.

Estimates of how long it will take to start producing plutonium for bombs hover around the 6 month mark, given Pyongyang has to rebuild the cooling tower it destroyed in 2007 in return for economic aid. Those were the days of carrot and stick diplomacy.

Kim has now reached a point very close to nowhere-to-go on the bellicose scale, and he is appearing increasingly unhinged, which of course is a big worry when it comes to the whole concept of nuclear mutually assured destruction.

Even the vaguely sane know not to play with the red button. The US, the ROK and others in the region are taking this all very seriously, even though they doubt he’s that stupid.

In the meantime Kim has whipped his million-strong army and his screaming, weeping, fainting and clapping (sometimes simultaneously) subjects into a nationalist frenzy, but seems still in search of some measure that proves what a tough guy he really is.

Striking at the US mainland would be suicide. Even if he could, as a plan emblazoned on a photo-op prop it is likely to be consigned to the dustbin of fantasy, alongside George W Bush’s ‘Mission Accomplished‘ banner. 

As inexperienced as Kim is, surely he knows he can’t take on, let alone wipe out the US, South Korea, Japan, or carry on as he is doing and not isolate himself completely from his only ‘friend’, China - already showing signs of losing patience.

At this stage it is fair to calculate that what is important is not so much the message Kim is transmitting to the wider world, but the one he as the ‘Great Successor’ is aiming at his domestic audience.

If that means manufacturing a threat, so be it. A benefit of operating a hermetically sealed kingdom is that very few locals know exactly what is going on in the big wide world. Even if they did, they wouldn’t say so, would they?

Then there is the aspect of provocation on the part of the US with B-2 stealth bomber and B-52 bomber fly-overs. While part of the high profile, annual military US-ROK exercises, they have played perfectly into Kim’s propaganda battle.

Perceived aggression from the enemy West helps him save face on the home front, as it did his father and grandfather. That’s the grandfather who seriously overplayed his hand in the 1950 aggression with the South.

The danger of this current situation is the unpredictability of inexperience.

Also, Kim is, for all intents and purposes, not understood well by the ROK and the West. Little seems to be known (or at least disseminated) about those who are advising him, and there are persistent rumours of infighting within the political elite of Pyongyang. 

That unpredictability has to be processed in conjunction with past confrontations the DPRK has initiated with no retaliation, including the sinking of the South Korean Cheonan in 2010 and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, together with recent sophisticated cyber attacks attributed to Pyongyang which have raised concerns about exactly what capacity Kim possesses in this arena.  

South Korea’s new President, also needs to prove her resolve, as many South Koreans believed the lack of retaliation for the Cheonan and the Yeonpyeong incidents showed the South to be weak.

Park Geun-hye has pledged a military rather than a political response should Kim cross into her territory at all. She does so with the knowledge the US will have her back, both of course hoping there will be some way to defuse Kim.

Experience tells us that brats who throw tantrums often over-reach, and suddenly, accidentally, hell is unleashed.

This could involve a short, sharp test of the ROK’s new leadership with short and medium range missiles of which Pyongyang has large stockpiles.

Could the closure of the Kaesong industrial zone, stranding South Korean citizens inside the DPRK be the canary in the mine? The closure is being treated as an alarming new escalation because it has remained open during all previous contemporary troubles. Could it provoke Park? 

Kim also has troops - oodles of them, seemingly on constant parade showing off weapons of doubtful quality.

To date the ROK and the US do not believe there is any significant troop movement in the north of the peninsula, and, you’d have to be an idiot to broadcast a military offensive weeks before. 

Kim’s carryon means the sanctions against Pyongyang are hurting and, rubbing salt into his wounds is the fact he has been given no indication that the 'bad behaviour followed by rewards for good behaviour' cycle is back in operation.

So the danger is miscalculation.

Either side could miscalculate.

Chances are Kim would start the ball rolling, and then it will be up to some pretty controlled forces to respond in a measured way in order to avoid an inadvertent escalation with a corresponding death toll.

As per usual the military industrial complex will be the big winner as even threats are effective for those in the war business. If the Kims and the Ahmadinejads of this world did not exist, the military industrial complex would have to invent them - if it hasn’t already.

North Korean people trapped in their rogue state will of course pay the biggest price. They starve for the sake of a military-first doctrine and weaponry that is no match for those their petulant brat of a dictator threatens. 

Tragically however, history is littered with the debris left by rogue leaders acting on their own delusions of grandeur.

Comments (6)

by stuart munro on April 04, 2013
stuart munro

The game may slowly be changing on the Korean peninsula, as the North's military, once funded as Cuba's was, by the Soviet Union, steadily loses effectiveness. The ability to obliterate Seoul with artillery is less assured also, as the formerly formidable North Korean air defences decline and drones render what would once have been suicidal counter battery missions feasible.

We are a long way down a different road from that we might have taken had the sunshine policy still been in force when Kim Jong Il died. The prospects are poor, with little immediate hope of improvement. Nevertheless even conventional warfare with the North promises to be profoundly costly. While leaders prefer to let others make the mistakes there is still some hope that disaster can be averted until Kim Jong Un matures a little.

by Alan Johnstone on April 05, 2013
Alan Johnstone

I suspect (and hope) that the general staff in the north are more rational than their leader;

They are happy for him to posture to earn concessions and then back down.

However there are red lines, I'd imagine if he goes too far and orders a direct attack on the ROK / Japan / US, his orders would no longer be obeyed and he'd swiftly find himself in front of a people tribunal, then in front of a firing squad.

by Chris Morris on April 05, 2013
Chris Morris

There is a very interesting technical analysis here:


You may be right that it is posturing, but I suspect that there will be one provocation to many and it will escalate into a full scale conflict from which no one will win, except perhaps the remnants of the 12M North Koreans who will no longer be serfs.

by stuart munro on April 08, 2013
stuart munro

Nice Chris. But no troop movements according to the Hague, no detected signals traffic increase - I think it's basically invective as usual. As for the nukes - as your report says, they're really truck portable rather than missile ready atm. Short of a Trojan horse effort Seoul will do well enough.

by barry on April 08, 2013


Dont you know that its become de rigueur among the bloggeratte to restrain from calling a spade a spade......

Its refreshing to see someone call and idiot an idiot!!  It seems of late that many blogg sites have become all PC and have caught the "I dont want to insult or offend  anybody" syndrome.  One wonders why they bother to go on with that sort of attitude.


Keep it up.

by George Hendry on April 21, 2013
George Hendry

I've been listening to our national radio this morning on this topic...

Perhaps, Barry, pc bloggers have refrained from calling a spade a spade because they knew they hadn't got close enough to be sure it was.

This morning's interviewee was going on about how if you actually read the statements emanating from North Korea they don't read like belligerent provocation, but appropriate response to hypocritical threats emanating from the western alliance. I'm not sure on this as I haven't read the statements myself.

However, for several months now I have been hearing that North Korean leaders need their bank accounts frozen by all other countries who can do this, as thanks to these accounts the leaders are living in luxury while starving their people. Thanks to Nicky Hager's work I look forward to finding these account details among, among, oops! - the tax haven accounts of the wealthy leaders of the countries not currently being threatened by the US military!

Ok, so why pick on North Korea for that? Well, um, it isn't exactly that, it's that they have nuclear weapons capability, which they mustn't have in case they use it to invade someone. Nuclear capability is only right for countries that can be trusted with it, big responsible ones like the US and China, and little responsible ones like Israel, countries whose military would never invade or blockade another territory, would they. Nor of course would their governments condone a few wealthy living in luxury among many starving poor. Here in NZ we can pride ourselves on the fact (phew!) that as long as we don't have nuclear capability the US military will not mind if we too have a few wealthy among many starving poor and laws busily being made to keep it that way.

Totally absent from the news has been any talk of North Korea invading any other country. So why don't they just do it?

In the Korean War, did or did not the US military kill about three million North Korean civilians by continuing to bomb them after the war was already won? If so, North Korea has the job of trying to work out the best way to dissuade the US military from doing such a thing again. Unless you assume that their Leaders actually want their people bombed and believe they can trust the US military with this costly task, think of the saving in overseas funds.

So, Jane, what might the disinformation you swallowed so completely really be about? Allegedly North Korea has no Federal Reserve (apparently Libya didn't either) and the people behind the international financial crisis, you know, the ones who get bailed out and give themselves bonuses for it, don't like countries that don't want to join in the fun game.

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