CALIFORNIA, April 11, 2013 ― The Hermit Kingdom of North Korea is doing it again, but this time with a different edge to it. In attempting to one-up his predecessors and gain a seat on the world stage, the young Kim Jong Un is willing to use old fashioned brinkmanship and risk a meaningless war (a classic example of Proverbs 21:29a).
Not only is North Korea the last Stalinist regime in the world, but its quirky behavior is more reminiscent of a spoiled child throwing a tantrum than any government worthy of respect. The difference from other autocratic regimes, however, is a clever decades old strategy to get what it wants.
So, what does the young Kim Jong Un want? More than anything, a seat at the table of world powers with the respect that presumably comes with it ― and he wants it now.
What’s the shortest path for a third rate country to gain world prominence? What’s the biggest political game changer available? Joining the world’s elite nuclear weapons club. How North Korea finally got to this point is a classic example of manipulation of other well-intentioned nations through the use of sympathy, fear and projecting a prickly irrationality.
It’s no accident the economy of North Korea is in a shambles and people are starving. It’s a natural consequence of a bankrupt communist worldview (reminiscent of Colossians 2:8), and it supports two valuable purposes. First, it gives the impression they’re a weak nation and not a true threat to anyone no matter how strong the rhetoric. But secondly, it plays on the humanitarian sympathies of the west to provide aid to suffering people, allowing North Korea to use its limited resources to build up their military.
In fact, by agreeing to forestall nuclear weapon ambitions in the 1990s the regime was able to have trade sanctions loosened and massive foreign aid provided to its citizen pawns.
As we now know, any agreements North Korea entertained only drew attention away from their true objectives: building nuclear weapons and long range missiles. While North Korea has been subjected to non-proliferation treaties, weapon technology embargos, U.N. resolutions and site inspections, it consistently used deceit, deception and delay to finally build a rudimentary nuclear weapons capability with a credible delivery system.
To keep world powers from taking overt military action against them, North Korea has also routinely cultivated widespread uncertainty about the stability of its leadership. Irrational military provocations towards South Korea, public displays of targeted cities, long range missile tests over sovereign nations and blustery threats of thermonuclear war all fit a pattern (reflective of Proverbs 26:18-19). If a nation’s iron-fisted leadership is thought to be irrational or unbalanced, then extreme care is called for in dealing with them.
The young, inexperienced Kim Jong Un fits this caricature perfectly. Although his threats are considered overblown, they can’t be ignored because of the potential for any mistakes or miscalculations that could result in massive military conflict.
But is war Kim Jong Un’s real objective? Probably not. If war did break out, both North Korea’s military and known nuclear sites could be easily destroyed. Realistically, there’s no strategic way the North could actually conquer the South or effectively strike our interests in the region. A major conflict could be devastating for both sides, but North Korea would be quickly contained.
For now, we’re taking the proper actions to safeguard our allies and interests in the region by pre-positioning military forces. Preparing carefully for conflict is absolutely necessary to encourage the current crisis to cool down. Though this is insurance against all-out war, it also puffs up Kim Jong Un’s ego as a credible world power. But ignoring him at this point will only incentivize more provocations until conflict would inevitably happen (see Proverbs 26:5).
Unfortunately, our President’s current preoccupation with domestic matters may be sending the wrong message to our regional partners as well as North Korea. Our resolve is the critical factor in what eventually plays out. We’re duty bound to defend our allies in the region and any wavering or uncertainty on our part will only embolden more provocations and create uncertainty with our allies (see Proverbs 18:19 for consequences of inaction).
If the current pattern of irresponsible provocations continues, it’s just a matter of time until war will happen. It’s at that point where our action will set the pattern for future encounters with rogue nations.
In fact, this Korean Peninsula crisis is already a wakeup call for our next nuclear challenge with Iran. They, as well as our allies, will be watching our treatment of this situation very carefully to see whether we’re going to act clearly, strongly and with determination, or naively depend on our enemies to negotiate in good faith indefinitely into the future.
We already know the answer with North Korea. How well did that work out?
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