North Korea: Nuclear State With Higher Ambitions?

Even though the lines of communication have thawed a little between North and South Korea, President Donald J. Trump isn’t deviating much from his usual tone against the rogue authoritarian state (I guess when you’ve been blogging long enough, you start to phrase things in a quasi-journalistic way, and ignore the hypocrisy of the nation where you’re posting from).

Trump has offered a roughed-up looking olive branch to Kim Jong Un. “Sure, I always believe in talking,” was the official response he gave to journalists. But, this comes shortly after he said he had a larger nuclear button than Kim.

Trump followed that up with:

“If something can happen and something can come out of those talks, that would be a great thing for all of humanity. That would be a great thing for the world. Very important.”

Such a statement follows a trail of bellicose rhetoric (maybe I should add “amid saber-rattling” to complete the illusion of journalistic language) launched, and sustained by, both leaders.

Trump continued to take credit for the slight altering in the diplomatic landscape between both countries.

“A lot of people have said, a lot of people have written, that without my rhetoric, without my tough stance — and it’s not just a stance, I mean, this is what has to be done, if it has to be done — that they wouldn’t be talking about Olympics, they wouldn’t be talking right now. “I’d love to see them take it beyond the Olympics. … At the appropriate time, we’ll get involved.”

Seems irrelevant to me. Kim Jong Un has already offered a vague timeline for opening up talks with other nations, being very open about using the threat of nuclear weapons as a bargaining chip.

This reminds me of how past presidents would take credit for an improving economy, even when evidence of their involvement having a positive impact was slim or nonexistent. While it’s important to keep pointing out blatant misinformation via the Trump administration, or directly from the llama’s mouth, considering the long-term, non-nuclear impact this has on the the region or world politics is also important. Even though the North Korean dictatorship has proven it is internally strong, and by internally strong, I mean heaping upon its citizens horrible abuse of all kinds, it hasn’t been able to demonstrate that it can elicit responses from other nations that benefit it, until very recently.

If we look back, it’s been a lengthy road of verbal attacks and nuclear tests. These tests have never been for their own sake, though. To see Kim Jong Un realistically, we must view him as a semi-rational actor. Neither genius nor madman, he occupies a space uniquely his own. The United States has been dealing with the North Korea problem since the Clinton administration. Deferred military action and murky diplomacy have always been the habitual strategies.

Going from vague “in a few years” threat to blistering moment-to-moment terror, North Korea has a story to tell too. It’s easy to perceive the country as a hermit kingdom with little designs beyond retaining what little power it possesses, and, if we aren’t viewing it as a hermit kingdom, we are seeing Kim Jong Un playing the world’s stage and using fear as the main source of entertainment.

It’s an interesting, if wrong, perception. As the New York Times reports, Kim Jong Un has domestic ambitions that rival what I believe his broader ambitions to be. If I understand this article correctly, Kim Jong Un wishes to seem relevant to the newest generation, focusing on modern-seeming nuclear weapons vs. antiquated-seeming technology. Even dictators have to seem relevant to some degree. It’s a form of patriotism too, and despite many defectors, a patriotic message is playing in North Korea that isn’t entirely dissimilar to the bravado seem from POTUS.

On the world’s stage, Kim Jong Un might wish to sabotage the diplomatic ties with South Korea and the United States. Not only this, but openly trying to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula by appealing to the South Koreans takes Trump out of the ballpark, whether or not he approves.

We could see Kim Jong Un’s attempts to get closer with South Korea as feeding an international agenda, or as a means to prop up his domestic one. Certainly this is larger than Donald Trump, and the North Korean leader has definitely demonstrated that.

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