On Monday, the Foreign Minister of North Korea, Mr. Ri Yong-ho, accused U.S. President Donald Trump of declaring war on his country. The White House quickly dismissed the alleged declaration of war as "absurd."
When the danger of miscalculation by either side is immeasurable, how could North Korea have possibly benefitted by making this statement?
First, undoubtedly we are living in an era of quick tweets, but meaningless talk. Consider the remainder of Minister Ri's comments, where he further noted that, "The whole world should clearly remember it was the U.S. who first declared war on our country."
Ri's statement serves as a peculiarly self-aware historic marker, as if to clarify for any future student of history confused between the behaviour of an outspoken American president and the overt militaristic posturing of the rogue, totalitarian dynastic state.
It was like Mr. Ri was trying to say, "Just in case North Korea does not exist tomorrow, the Americans started it!"In an era where talk is profoundly cheap and profuse, apparently so too is throwing around the notion that one country has declared war on another.
Second, the propaganda, disinformation and cyber wars between the great powers are perpetual and fast-moving. Falsely accusing another state of declaring war is a major source of fuel for that fire. Operating explicitly as China's thorn in the side of the U.S., North Korea's statements will serve the systematized "fake news" machinery deployed and employed by Russia, China and North Korea itself on a wide scale for months to come.
Third, even if the countries never formally go to war, the North Korean regime (in its own collective mindset) has given itself licence to behave and operate freely as if the war is already on. In that sense, today's statement will likely serve as the green light to carry out an atmospheric hydrogen bomb test as a "self-defence" measure to deter the American "declaration of war," or justify shooting down an American bomber, as threatened.
For all the talk about North Korea being homicidal and not suicidal (which presupposes that the distinction is helpful for a meaningful dialogue), so far Kim Jong-un has not provided a scintilla of evidence to suggest that he seeks to live out his lifetime as Supreme Leader, as his father and grandfather before him did. Baseless claims the U.S. has already declared war against his country look both foolish and self-serving in a wholly suicidal manner.
The North Korean people deserve far better than this misguided kid-glove treatment of their truly insane leadership.
When Mr. Ri stated on Saturday that it is "inevitable" that North Korean missiles will hit the U.S. mainland, in truth he only guaranteed the total, complete annihilation of the nation state of North Korea should these missiles ever fly. This was the counterpoint made by President Trump when he threatened to "totally destroy North Korea if [the U.S.] is forced to defend itself or its allies."
President Trump was not unleashing an open-ended threat to simply flatten North Korea when and if he so chooses to. Trump's statement (widely lambasted) was a clear establishment of America's retaliatory position, couched in the context of self-defence on behalf of America and its partners.
In contrast, North Korea continues to make outsized threats about attacking the U.S. while ignoring the fact that the U.S. could absorb multiple nuclear missile attacks. Never mind that North Korea would cease to exist after even a handful of targeted American nuclear strikes. The U.S. possess a plenitude of second-strike, third-strike and fourth-strike (and on) nuclear capabilities.
In this light, the White House was correct to call out the North Korean allegation for what it is and was: patently absurd. A more accurate descriptor may have been: "totally insane."
On the insanity note, it cannot be forgotten that each and every member of Kim Jong-un's diplomatic corps were born and bred under the authoritarian dictatorship of the Kim dynasty. These are men and women brainwashed into believing that Kim Jong-un (and his father and grandfather before him) are literally gods who serve as the Eternal Leaders of the country. Their dear Leaders' photographs hang in every room in every building in the country. Let that sink in.
This, too, is so plainly and overwhelmingly absurd, and yet many commentators continue to speak as if North Korea must be treated by the rest of the international community as an equal under the diligent eyes of the United Nations and any interactions governed by normative international law. The North Korean people deserve far better than this misguided kid-glove treatment of their truly insane leadership.
Like all cults of personality before it, the Kim regime will one day collapse and likely spectacularly so.
Of course compounding the dilemma is China's de facto persistence on keeping the North Korean regime alive as a purported bulwark against the possibility of united, democratic Korea, a foreign policy position which is far more dangerous and destabilizing than the absolutely necessary American military preparations with South Korea.
The North Korean government is an evil, murderous and doomed enterprise, and the last remaining vestige of the great failed socialist state experiment. Like all cults of personality before it, the Kim regime will one day collapse and likely spectacularly so.
What is scariest, then, is that we may very well be witnessing the opening stages of that collapse.
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