As frustration mounts over North Korea's expanding nuclear arsenal, the despotic regime's latest series of provocations may have placed its demented leader Kim-Jong-un squarely in the crosshairs of Allied retaliation.
Concerns over the North Korean dictator began to percolate in February, when, in a scene lifted out of a James Bond movie, he had his half-brother Kim Jong-nam assassinated in public view at Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur Airport by two women who rubbed his unsuspecting face with a highly toxic VX nerve agent.
While it's still unclear what transgression his cross-bred relation committed to spark the ordered hit, the bar for indiscriminate killing has been set pretty low ever since Kim Jong-un assumed hereditary control of the Hermit Kingdom in 2011.
To that end, North Korea's supreme leader has ordered the termination of scores of government officials for committing such damaging state crimes as dining illegally, insufficient funeral grieving, and detrimental "alternative dreaming." While on the surface those types of misdeeds might be considered by any sentient being as nonsensical, the punishments exacted are quite serious – a litany of gruesome executions carried out by anti-aircraft guns, mortars, and flamethrowers.
Still, before international outrage could fully play out on the Malaysian gangland slaying, the North Korean despot quickly diverted attention by launching four intermediate-range ballistic missiles toward Japan, three of which landed several hundred miles from the Japanese shoreline.
The rocket salvo served as the latest indicator of North Korea's growing missile delivery capability, moving the pariah nation one step closer to achieving its articulated goal of fielding long-range nuclear missiles capable of striking the American mainland.
Kim's provoking actions evinced a clear level of frustration from American officials, irritation best encapsulated by U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who exclaimed, in an understatement for the ages, "This is not a rational person."
To be fair, given the obsessively secretive nature of North Korea, assigning an accurate psychological assessment of its supreme leader's mental stability is like gleaning clues of rational soundness from the entrails of a butchered animal. Nevertheless, it stands to reason that if even a slim percentage of the crazy rumors circulating about the brutally oafish Kim are true, his is an apple not far removed from the genocidal Kim family tree, which has been rooted firmly in North Korean soil since 1948.
At that time, Kim Il-sung's ascension to power came with his establishment of Juche, North Korea's official religion, a denomination that required all North Koreans to worship him as a god. Deity status was handed down to his son, Kim Jong-il, and eventually his now homicidal grandson, Kim Jong-un.
Maintaining the Kim family's cult of personality has required a pliant, brainwashed citizenry, indoctrination that begins with impressionable school-age minds taught the godlike features of the ruling Kim, lessons centered on his supernatural abilities, such as an ability to control the weather or his not needing ever to urinate or defecate. From there, the propaganda machine continues through adulthood via a tightly controlled government media narrative that ensures that televisions and radios receive only government programing, coupled with forbidden access to the internet or other international information sources.
Despite a mind-controlling system that would make any American public school official drool with delight, a stick is still needed to keep in line any free-thinking person who chafes at swallowing the whole propaganda pie. As such, the Kim family has created a network of slave-labor camps, home to more than 200,000 North Koreans, one third of whom are believed to be children, in which their inhabitants are subjected to starvation, torture, and rape. Moreover, no prisoners are ever released from the death camp system, which often hold up to three generations of North Koreans, many of whom have been born into permanent captivity.
While the overall effect has been to turn North Korea into a Hobbesian nightmare, the totalitarian regime isn't content to enjoy its gulags and genocidal abuses. Rather, it exports that misery to the rest of the world through nuclear force.
Like the Little Engine that Could chugging up the hill with dogged determination, North Korea has been on the trek to nuclear statehood for over thirty years. Admittedly, its initial efforts produced a lot of guffaws, its weapons tests reminiscent of the early American space program. Failures included rockets drifting far off course and others never making it off the launch pad.
Unfortunately, those halcyon days are now a distant memory, as the communist state has produced some threatening results. Since 2006, it has conducted six atomic tests, the last of which in 2016 had an explosive force two times the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Its nuclear arsenal is now believed to contain 20 similar nuclear bombs, along with enough highly enriched uranium and plutonium to make dozens more.
Adding fuel to the nuclear fire, North Korea is believed to have produced a small compact nuclear bomb capable of fitting into the nose cones of its ballistic missiles, which is particularly worrisome, given that the rogue state can reportedly already target South Korea and Japan with its medium-range ballistic missiles.
With its short game in shape, the North Koreans have now taken out the driver and are focused on shoring up a long-range nuclear arsenal, with reports that the nation is within a year of conducting intercontinental ballistic missile tests and a few years removed from achieving full long-range missile capability.
Not surprisingly, all of this has prompted restrained panic among the United States and its Japanese and South Korean allies over how to slow down North Korea's expanding armory and keep it from being used by the mentally unhinged Kim Jong-un.
An immediate first step has been to speed up the deployment to South Korea of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) in an attempt to stave off nuclear immolation for the ROK and the thirty thousand American troops stationed there. Yet the defensive missile system is not scheduled to be fully operational until the end of 2017, making it uncertain to have an effect if the unpredictable Kim employs nukes before THAAD's installation is complete. Until that point, some suggest plying the well worn route of imposed trade sanctions and restrictions, joined with very sternly worded diplomatic statements of condemnation, as the most reasonable path, despite decades of similar such actions having failed to whet the insatiable North Korean hunger for nuclear weapons.
A third avenue of recourse may be an appeal to North Korea's longtime ally China to rein in the unbalanced Kim, but time has proven China unsuited to the task, whether through simple disinterest or the realization that, like an indulgent parent, it can no longer control its unruly child.
Surrounded by these unlikely solutions, the Trump administration, which has announced that all options remain on the table, may be considering a more dramatic choice, which is to just simply get rid of Kim Jong-un permanently.
Speculation on this front arose during the recent joint military exercises held between the U.S. and South Korea. According to South Korean news reports, participants in the air, land, and sea drills included Navy SEAL Team 6, these a first-time addition whose inclusion was reported to "simulate a 'decapitation attack' on North Korea's leadership."
Whether this was a metaphorical or literal description, the Pentagon wasted little time in tamping down speculation that it would lop off Kim's head by stressing that "the U.S. military 'does not train for decapitation missions' of any kind."
Aside from American military prohibitions, Kim's sudden removal from the scene by beheading or even a spoiled serving of kimchi may produce only unintended consequences, as was the case with Libya's Moammar Gaddafi, whose death created a broken state filled with warring militant Islamist factions awash in high-grade weaponry, including chemical weapons.
While such an outcome in North Korea would certainly raise troubling issues, it's equally certain that a final viable solution to the nuclear-induced madness of Kim Jong-un needs to be addressed before the ticking Doomsday Clock strikes zero.
Frank Crimi is the author of Divine Roosters & Angry Clowns. He can be reached at [email protected]