Foreign Affairs

Instilling Fear In The “Fearless Leader”

Finally, South Korea has drawn its “line in the sand.”

Over the past decades, North Korea has conducted dozens of outrageous, unprovoked hostile acts against the South.  These have included killing the First Lady while attempting to assassinate the president, murdering Cabinet members, inserting commando teams via mini-submarine penetrations into territorial waters, torpedoing a destroyer claiming 46 lives, and firing artillery rounds at a South Korean island killing four.  Every act has been met, for the most part, by Seoul’s military inaction.   

After the inability of island defenses to respond to the November 23rd North Korean artillery attack, the South Korean defense minister was sacked.  At his confirmation hearing, the new minister said, “If there are further provocations, we will definitely use aircraft to bomb North Korea.”

Normally, Pyongyang’s egregious acts have been stretched out over lengthier periods, perhaps allowing Seoul time to get over the indignation of one before launching another.  The artillery attack only follows by eight months the sinking of the destroyer Cheonan.  Why?

North Korean dictator Kim Il Song ruled the country from its 1948 founding until his 1994 death, performing a balancing act between two power bases—the worker’s party and the military—with each given an equal role.  When he died, his son, Kim Jong Il, took over.  Increasing the army’s role, he embarked upon his “Songun” or “military first” initiative, making it the “supreme repository of power”—running contrary to Chinese leader Mao Zedong’s belief, “Our principle is that the Party commands the gun, and the gun must never be allowed to command the Party.”

Perhaps recognizing lost funding from a collapsed Soviet Union coupled with a poor economy would generate domestic discontent, Kim Jong Il saw the army as the more viable asset to prop up his dictatorship.  During his first decade of rule, he promoted more officers to general rank than his father had in 46 years.  (Just recently, he promoted his heir-apparent son, Kim Jong Un, to general rank.)  As a result, the army today is top-heavy, causing internal strife.  Most dictators facing domestic strife they have created seek out an external target as a release.  With Seoul always a convenient target, Pyongyang’s leadership once again unleashed its army.

A four day joint US-South Korea war game exercise scheduled before the incident went on as planned November 28.   Five days later, the largest ever joint US-Japan war game exercise was launched.

In response to the artillery attack, the US urged North Korea’s big brother, China, to exercise its influence to stop Pyongyang’s aggression.  The response from North Korea’s patron—which has repeatedly blocked efforts by the UN Security Council to condemn Pyongyang for violating other resolutions—was typical.  Without even condemning the artillery attack, China hypocritically criticized the war games, suggesting talks be held rather than threatening force.  It is a ploy China uses repeatedly to buy more time for South Korean/US emotions to subside as endless talks devoid of progress are conducted.

Seoul’s warning any additional attacks by Pyongyang will trigger a military response squarely places South Korean credibility on the line after the North has come to rely on decades of appeasement, talk and inaction.

What Seoul may want to consider—rather than an air bombardment against military targets—is a more limited strike.  South Korea is in desperate need of a pilotless aircraft, like the Predator, capable of personally targeting the North’s leadership.  We have seen how quickly irrational leaders gain rationality once personally targeted for their terrorist activities.

Targeting civilian leadership in this manner may give some pause for concern.  But, since Kim Jong Il became supreme commander of the army in 1991, since his heir apparent son was promoted to general and since both leaders have forfeited their civilian status by personally directing and planning hostilities, they—just like Saddam Hussein—have become targetable.

When the US initiated its “shock and awe” campaign against Saddam in 2003, Kim Jong Il immediately went underground, maintaining a low profile and not appearing in public for nearly two months—obviously concerned he might be next on the US target list.  

In April 1986, after evidence implicated Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi in a terrorist bombing that killed Americans in a West Berlin discotheque ten days earlier, President Reagan ordered US aircraft to attack Libyan targets.  Gadhafi came close to being killed.  Soon after, his terrorist activities ceased.

Many South Koreans have lost their lives as a result of unrestrained acts of terrorism by Pyongyang.  The time has come to put a bounty on the heads of the North Korean leaders involved in their murders.  Dubbed “Fearless Leader” by his propaganda machine, Kim Jong Il will have to prove if his actions befit his moniker.

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