By Nick Connor
Before Donald Trump swash-buckled his way onto the global stage, the title of world’s worst hair amongst national leaders had little competition. In recent months, Kim Jong Un and North Korea have shown no sign of letting up a missile-testing programme that is becoming increasingly alarming; their warlike intentions each day more unequivocally clear. Whilst fevered attempts to bring their mission of destruction into the realms of feasibility have brought little success thus far, North Korea could one day present a very real danger. Trump’s hair is right to stand on end.
Despite the threat North Korea poses, we, the West, seem unable to think practically about this peculiar state beyond ridicule and mockery. The gluttonous, childlike and poorly manicured ‘Great Leader’ is, in our eyes, plainly and unequivocally a madman. CNN published an article on 25th April entitled, quite simply, “You can’t out-crazy Kim Jong Un.” Who could possibly believe a North Korean mission of world conquest to be a realistic venture? But, when we only look past the absurdity of North Korea, its laughable ambition, and endless empty rhetoric, it becomes clear that his agenda is nowhere near as “crazy” as the media might suggest. There is method to the Great Leader’s madness.
North Korea’s hyper-aggressive foreign policy is no pipe dream, but a clever piece of strategy and one that is working. This is not to say, of course, that North Korea could succeed in a war against America. It seems fairly clear to even the least politically savvy that against the might of the United States, one of the world’s most powerful military forces, together with South Korea, Kim Jong Un’s intentions are comically ambitious. Instead, their ruling regime is far cleverer than we would like to believe. As North Korea publicly warmongers, boasting outrageously of her nuclear weapons programme and regularly firing missiles into the Sea of Japan, the country has propelled itself in remarkable fashion into the public limelight.
What hope could a tiny, isolated and resource-poor nation have on an international stage against the likes of China and Japan without making a noise disproportionate to its size? And how better to attract the attention of more presumptuous neighbours than by threatening mass destruction on an untold scale? Israel and Iran have shown all too well that the best way to gain an international voice is by nuclear armament, and North Korea’s ‘mad’ foreign policy has won China as an ally. There is little more that the North Korean regime could have hoped to achieve. Without mass militarisation and hyper-aggressive warmongering, the country would have no voice; dismissed and ignored by the world as an antique of a bygone age of isolationism and dictatorship. Instead, a country – once a footnote in South Asian politics – has become one of its key players.
As such, North Korea’s very survival depends upon such outlandish policy; they have a great deal to lose. Over decades of careful state building, they have created a system of mass-indoctrination as successful as any seen before. The blind, fanatical loyalty of the North Korean people seems absurd. Some in North Korea, it is said, believe Kim Il-Sung created the earth. This is not the work of a fool. Not even the most deranged of tyrants would throw away decades of careful state building in a war against the odds. Schooled under an alias in Germany, and perhaps Switzerland, Kim Jong Un must surely have watched alongside the rest of the world as long-standing dictatorships in Gadhafi and Mubarak tumbled under populist revolts.
Just as terrifying would be the example of Assad’s government, who resisted revolution and saw their country collapse into a perpetual and bloody proxy war. As even the slightest hint of revolt amongst his people could spiral into a US-backed operation to topple the regime, Kim Jong Un has, so far with great success, sought to reaffirm his position via mass armament. Nuclear missiles not only rocket North Korea onto the international stage, but provide perhaps the best insurance policy against external meddling. And what North Korean would rebel against a leader in possession of the greatest weapon mankind has yet produced?
It is easy to look at North Korea and dismiss what we see as ignorance and stupidity. Kim Jong Un may be a character of laughable ambition and a woeful hairpiece, but his regime is founded upon cold hard fact. When faced with the reality of North Korea’s situation, their seemingly rash and ridiculous foreign policy is far less out of touch than it would seem. Maintaining power via a complex and dogmatic system of censorship, repression and cruel authoritarian government, North Korean dictatorship has been amongst the most long-standing and unwavering of our time. And, in order to protect such a system from a rapidly shrinking world, a policy of aggressive protectionism is all but required.
As much as we may ridicule the absurdity of Kim Jong Un, we cannot hope to understand his intentions while we simply dismiss him as deranged and backwards. A tiny, impoverished nation has the United States scrambling and squabbling, and the world on tenterhooks. This is no madness.
Photograph: (stephan) via Flickr and Creative Commons