7/12/09 Update! Reports now indicate that Kim Jong Il might have pancreatic cancer.
North Korea’s recent actions are indicative of a failing state attempting to elevate their position in the international community, while the particular sharpness of their actions may indicate that the health of leader Kim Jong Il is in jeopardy.
In recent months and with what might seem like little warning, North Korea has put the world on edge by testing new long-range missiles, continuing its nuclear armament programs, threatening war against South Korea, and provoking the United States with missile tests and allegedly even hacking US Government computer networks.
Another bold declaration, North Korea fired missiles in the general direction of Hawaii (in other words, they fired missiles South West from the Korean Peninsula; they couldn’t hit Hawaii if they wanted to) on July 4, 2009 – the anniversary of America’s Declaration of Independence from the British Empire.
The missiles fell harmlessly in the Pacific, a mere 300 miles from their launch point.
It would appear that North Korea’s intentions are clear: led by a maniacal Kim Jong Il, North Korea is homicidal, if not suicidal, and wants to go to war with the United States. But looking at their actions through the lens of history, and remembering that North Korea is — while led by a despicable tyrant, an egomaniac who has starved upwards of two million of his own people — still a state acting in its own self-interests and toward some ultimate “end,” outside of self-destruction. Thus, North Korea’s belligerence on the international stage is a façade as the failing state hopes to leverage power on a global stage.
While North Korea’s ultimate end goal is unclear, being considered legitimate on the international stage is a necessary prerequisite to obtaining more power and fulfilling Kim Jong Il’s neurotic goals.
“Threat,” as Leverage for Diplomacy
On the stage of international relations, a state’s exposure can rise fast if it threatens massive violence and war, especially if the violence is devoid of any just cause. Consider how some nations have (directly or indirectly) used violence and the threat of violence to increase their exposure and instigate diplomacy with neighbors and the international community:
- China’s rise to the international stage has been mostly a product of their rapid economic growth. But it’s China’s population of 1.4 billion, large armed forces, technological development, military expansion, and their influence on a potential shift in the global power structure that makes the Chinese Communist Party a serious world player and guaranteed to be included in international negotiations.
- Iran has risen to forefront of importance in the international community as the state has threatened to “wipe Israel off the map,” adamantly denying the Holocaust, threatening war with the West, and defiantly expanding its nuclear development program.
So, why the belligerence? What others are saying.
Time.com deduced rather simplistically that North Korea’s actions resulted from leader Kim Jong Il’s growing “…thoughts of passing on to his youngest son the family business (running North Korea into the ground).”
In another article, Reuters references to a suspected stroke suffered by Kim Jong Il about a year ago, claiming that “South Korean officials have said the North’s recent military grandstanding including its May 25 nuclear test was aimed at helping Kim pave the way for his successor after his illness raised doubts about his leadership.”
All notions indicate that Kim Jong Il is facing his own mortality. Faced with death, and having lived only to perpetually fail at making North Korea a global or regional power, Il is attempting to gain “power” in one last push. Recent images of Kim Jong Il show an elderly man whose health appears to be rapidly deteriorating.
North Korea has used this form of grandstanding to bring the United States to the diplomatic table in the past. And so the intent of North Korea’s belligerence would appear to be to leverage their power in the international community by intending to attract global powers into diplomatic discourse. Kim Jong Il is the type of tyrant that one could easily call evil. He’s an megalomaniac and genocidal murderer. But, in weighing the nation’s intentions, its rather clear that North Korean leadership does not intend to actually provoke war.
North Korea is intending to leverage their militaristic threats on the international stage into some convoluted notion of diplomatic respect. The reason for this recent push? Considering the health of their psychopathic leader, if I was a betting man, I’d put all money on Il.