As the craziness emanating out of North Korea keeps ratcheting up, one almost longs for the good old days of the Cold War. At least then we knew our adversary and had a certain level of confidence that the Soviet Union had no interest in self-destruction – the inevitable result if it launched its ICBMs at us.
We can’t be so sure that’s the case with the hermit kingdom of Kim Jong Un, which in recent days has done some unusually bizarre things.
A month after North Korea’s third nuclear test, it said it would “exercise the right to a preemptive nuclear attack” on South Korea and the United States. Last week it posted a strange, militaristic video on its YouTube channel, titled “Firestorms will Rain on the Headquarters of War,” with scenes of the U.S. Capitol being blown up and the White House in gun crosshairs. And it threatened to attack U.S. military bases in Japan and on Guam as retaliation for joint training missions with South Korea.
Is the rhetoric coming out of Pyongyang just more of the same bellicose saber-rattling we’ve heard in the past? Most experts seem to think so, but it’s hard to tell with the young, relatively inexperienced Kim, who became supreme leader in December 2011 upon the death of his father, Kim Jong Il.
Adding to the rising level of tension on the peninsula is widespread sentiment in South Korea that it should have its own nuclear weapons – a move unlikely to calm an already paranoid North Korea. Seoul should recognize that it doesn’t need to spend billions on such a program when it’s under the protection of the U.S. military.
On the subject of spending: We here on the West Coast – the likeliest targets if North Korea goes entirely off its rocker – appreciate the Pentagon’s move to add 14 land-based missile interceptors in Alaska. It’s not new spending; it would shift about $1 billion in the Boeing-managed system from efforts to develop a missile shield in Poland and Romania. That seems like a sound re-allocation of resources – even if the interceptors’ reliability is unproven. (They’ve failed in half of their tests.)
The real solution is for China to get serious about reining in North Korea. China must see that further destabilizing of the peninsula is not in its economic or strategic interests; peace is.