This is not the first time an enemy of the West has developed a nuclear bomb, but it is the first time that it could be conceived of only as a last weapon of self defence.
Here’s a sobering thought: without a satellite guidance system for his rockets, the most reliable means by which North Korea could hit a foreign target is via wooden fishing boat. The bomb, like everything else in their military arsenal, is intended for show and deployment in his own back yard.
Mr. Kim is more predictable than, say, Ayatollah Khomeini or Jeremy Corbyn. With his 73 maidens safe in Pyongyang and no higher ideal than the defence of Communism’s last heritage Ruritania, it is clear what he stands for and how he intends to stand for it. So I’d like to go full Guardian here and make the case for optimism about North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.
While undoubtably retaining much of his ancestors’ Ernst Blofeld – style joie de vivre, the present Mr. Kim has expressed an interest in economic reform and taken some steps towards granting autonomy to internal business activity. Yet a third of his country’s manpower, a quarter of its expenditure and virtually every object with more than two moving parts is now tied up in the effort simply to stave off invasion and expunge rebellion. This can’t go on for ever.
Let us speculate as to the contents of a policy paper now sitting on the green table in Pyongyang. It is probably titled something like: ‘Policy for the active inclusion of market elements to the DPRK.’ Which, in plain English, means: ‘Glasnost.’
Here’s where the bomb comes in.
Given the West’s track record from Nuremberg to the Hague, the North Korean leadership won’t risk taking a step in the right direction if it means compromising their defences. Reform will have to be on their terms if it is not to result in war. This is where international human rights tribunals start to defeat their own purpose.
North Korea is also unlikely even to declare its full intentions towards reform because, to Asiatic sensibilities, an admission of ideological compromise is cause for great shame (this is why Chairman Mao’s portrait still smiles over everything that he fought against in China).
Mr. Kim’s path of least resistance is therefore as clear as it is cheap and brutal: as soon as he has a few nukes, he’ll plant them in his own major cities and start a controlled opening of his country’s borders to elements of the outside world. North Korea will thus be transformed from a closed prison to an open hostage situation, the leadership retaining ultimate state power by virtue of their continued ability to blow everyone up.
Resentful of being deprived the enemy which partially defines them and protects their seat at the table of the military superpowers, I suspect that the real opponent to this reform will prove to be the South. The colour of a flag can be of greater importance than the nature of the regime it represents.
A softer example of the same situation exists in Taiwan. While the West applaud the civic and economic progress made in the People’s Republic of China, Taipei continues to conduct air raid drills out of a sense of political pride rather than actual fear of invasion from the mainland.
So, as China the USA and Germany vie to invest in North Korea’s agrotourism, ski resorts, weekend Yoga retreat centres and diet health spas, the nay-sayers in Seoul will always point to the nuke planted in down-town Pyongyang.
But frankly, it’s nothing that would raise eyebrows for those familiar with how the City of London functions.
Meanwhile, Mr. Kim can continue to troll the world with symbolic gestures of magnanimity from the penthouse suite of the Ryugyong Hotel, finger on the button as he strokes his Chinchilla cat.
Perhaps he might make a bid for the DPRK to join the European Union, or consecrate it to the Immaculate Heart of Mary? The Kims are originally of Presbyterian stock, but a sense of Communist realpolitik may yet soften him to the idea.
We let Tony Blair have a quiet retirement too, didn’t we?