Any hope that the succession of Kim Jong-un, the 20-something dictator of North Korea, would be a change for the better from his father in the Stalinist nation of North Korea have been crushed.
When his father, Kim Jong-Il, died in December 2011, there were speculations that his young successor, who had lived and attended school in the West, would have an interest in modernizing and bringing capitalism to the impoverished nation.
But it was not to be so.
It may be argued that Kim Jong-un is more dangerous to the world than his father had ever been.
The new downfall began about three weeks ago when the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning North Korea for ballistic missile tests back in December and imposed new sanctions on the Hermit Kingdom. The UNSC also demanded North Korea halt any further missile testing and asked the UN to monitor the nation more extensively. While China usually sides with North Korea on many issues, it is most likely that they will support the sanctions.
It didn't take long before North Korea reacted.
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Ignoring the resolution, North Korea announced they would continue with plans for a third nuclear test and test rockets capable of reaching the United States -- though their current technology is far from capable of achieving this. Nevertheless, a North Korean propaganda video has been released showing nuclear weapons striking an American city. It is also reported that Kim Jong-un has placed the country under martial law and called for North Korean troops to "prepare for war."
Not to be outdone, the United States and South Korea are preparing for new military and naval drills aimed at defending themselves against North Korea.
This is a dire and serious situation that deserves the attention of the world. Underlying all this, of course, is the unimaginable poverty and famine of its 24-million people and a continuing human rights crisis at the hands of an authoritarian dictator with no consideration for human life. The reports of starvation and cannibalism should not come as a surprise to readers of Blain Harden's bestseller Escape from Camp 14, a book chronicling the life of Shin Dong-hyuk who was born and raised in the notorious Korean gulag and one of the few who ever managed to escape. The young man recalls the difficult years of his life where he could not live off the food supplied by his camp guards and had to rely on eating rats, where his finger was deliberately cut off as punishment after dropping a sewing machine in one of the camp's factories, and where he was brutally tortured by camp officials, including by being roasted over an open fire for not giving them the information they wanted. There are an estimated 200,000 people living in these camps.
And while the West has known about several prison camps in North Korea, a possible new one has just been discovered as well.
It is safe to say that North Korea could never win in a military battle against South Korea, Japan, and the United States. Diplomacy relating to North Korea has been difficult because of China's reluctance to side with the West in favour of their communist neighbours. However, as North Korea continues to threaten action and increase their provocations, it may be harder and harder for China to side with them. After all, North Korea is showing signs of spiralling out of control.
If North Korea fires the first shots in a second round of the Korean War, they may not be able to rely on China's help as they have no interests right now in a war with the United States, one of their largest trade partners.
A declaration of war against the West might be North Korea's final undoing, liberating millions of people from their deprived lives under a brutal regime.
While peace is always the better option, the cards are currently in North Korea's hands.
This article was originally published in the Prince Arthur Herald