Feature

North Korea: Back to the future

In belligerent tones, Kim declared his support for his father and grandfather’s “military first” strategy.

It looks like Kim Jong Un will be “a chip off the old block,” said Bill Powell in Time. In defiance of the United Nations, Beijing, and Washington, North Korea’s newly crowned Supreme Leader launched a long-range ballistic missile last week to honor the 100th birthday of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, the nation’s founder. But the $1 billion missile that was supposed to lift a satellite into orbit flew for 80 seconds before disintegrating and crashing into the Yellow Sea. Three days after that public humiliation,  Kim, 29, spoke to his starving nation for the first time, flanked by generals clad in white uniforms like the one worn by his grandfather in 1953. In belligerent tones, the chubby, boyish Kim declared his support for his father and grandfather’s “military first” strategy, as a massive display of weaponry paraded through the streets. In the coming months, Kim and the generals will probably stage a nuclear test, to show the world that “North Korea’s military is actually not a joke.”

Expect the worst, said Sung-Yoon Lee in The New York Times. For decades, North Korea has followed every setback with an act of aggression. In the past three years alone, it set off its second nuclear test, shelled a South Korean island—killing four people—and sank a South Korean naval vessel, killing 46 sailors. Unfortunately, this deranged regime doesn’t respond well to “rhetorical hostility or diplomatic civility.” That’s why the U.S. needs to “turn all the screws we can” on Kim and the generals who give him his power, said National Review.com in an editorial. The Obama administration responded to the missile test by withdrawing its offer of $200 million in food aid. But that’s not enough. We must reinstate the Bush-era “smart sanctions” on imported luxury goods and food for Pyongyang’s privileged class, which were biting deeply before they were abandoned. A hard line “will clearly be more effective, and less enabling,” than Obama’s naïve diplomacy.

Obama was right to see if young Kim “might be open to constructive dialogue,” said The New York Times. Republicans predictably saw this as a sign of weakness, but the president gave away nothing, and had the full backing of the international community. After another tantrum or two, Pyongyang will be forced to “resume official negotiations.” We, too, will have no choice but to resume talks, because “the alternative—a military confrontation—would be disastrous.” 

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