Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
BECAUSE of his youth and therefore absence of long years experience in government posts, Kim Jong Il, the Supreme Leader of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK),was dismissed as a lightweight in both media commentary as well as expert analysis in NATO member states. Experts forecast that he would soon get ousted, and reports from the leadership core of the DPRK indicate that there were at least six serious efforts at replacing him, four of which were given up before being operationalised, but two of which were carried out, only to fail in the beginning stages itself. Those within NATO warning that Kim would have a short reign in power clearly seemed to be aware of such moves, which was perhaps why they made confident predictions of his imminent downfall.
In contrast, from the start of the term of Kim III as Supreme Leader of the DPRK, succeeding his grandfather Kim I and his father Kim II, this columnist was clear that the new leader, though very young, had a modern mind and boldness of spirit, and that he would seek to ensure that the DPRK become both a nuclear as well as an economic power. A further prediction was made (in both written as well as spoken commentary, some of the latter of which is available on Youtube) that Kim Jong Un would seek to unify the Korean peninsula through a process of negotiation with those in charge of the Republic of Korea (RoK). This would not be through war with South Korea but through conciliation such that the North Korean leadership core would be given positions of eminence in the united country, with Kim Jong Un perhaps settling for the title of Chairman for Life of the Unity Government, which would have as the next in line (and effective CEO) a President elected by all the Korean people. Key officials in the DPRK government would be given top jobs in the Unity Government, while the military would be unified, with both North Korean as well as South Korean officers merging into a single entity.
The US and its allies (including Japan) would like a repeat of the East German absorption into West Germany in the case of the DPRK with the RoC. They for long had the belief that Beijing would walk away from Pyongyang the way Moscow began to distance itself from East Berlin by 1987 in the hope that NATO member states would make concessions to the USSR. Instead, each concession by Gorbachev was followed by demands for more from Washington and its partners. The DPRK leadership made a detailed study of the implosion of the former USSR, and so did the Chinese Communist Party. Neither is therefore in any rush to repeat the steps towards surrender undertaken by Gorbachev during his six years in power as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Kim Jong Un has made a study of not only the fate of the USSR, but also that of Iraq and Libya (as predicted by this columnist in 2011, when Sarkozy, Cameron and Hillary Clinton began their campaign of destabilization in Libya).
Indeed, it was just weeks before taking over as Supreme Leader in North Korea that Kim heard of the gruesome death of Muammar Kaddafy, a leader who had believed his son Saif and had surrendered all his WMD stockpile to NATO. Clearly, the influence of his son was greater than the lesson which had unfolded before his eyes in Iraq, where in 2003 Saddam Hussein was toppled (and later hanged) even after he had given up the WMD that may have prevented an attack on him by US forces. That US President George W Bush and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld knew that Saddam had no WMD was obvious from the fact that some of the military convoys moving through roads in Iraq during the 2003 conflict were over twenty kilometres long. Such long lines of vehicles would never have been risked by a risk-averse Pentagon were there even the smallest probability that Saddam Hussein had WMD that his forces could lob in direction of such convoys. Rather, it was the knowledge that their leader had earlier surrendered WMD stocks that lowered morale of Saddam’s commanders, most of whom surrendered without giving battle to US and UK forces.
Earlier, during 1990-91, Saddam Hussein watched in almost a paralysed state when US forces began to get deployed to Kuwait and other nearby areas in preparation for an attack on Iraq. During the war itself, fear of massive retaliation kept Saddam from using WMD against US forces. During Operation Desert Storm as well, Iraqi generals gave up with only a token fight, aware that Saddam Hussein had banned the use of WMD. Some of them had been of the view that if Saddam had deployed WMD during the beginning of the US build-up, it may have dissuaded the US from using land forces in subsequent phases of the conflict. And if missile supplies got used in much greater profusion than was the case during the 1990-91 Gulf War, there is at least some grounds for believing that Washington may have abandoned plans for attack out of worry that there would be too many casualties in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar as a consequence of the use of WMD by Iraqi forces in the pre-attack phase of Operation Desert Storm.
The wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria have been exhaustively studied by Kim Jong Un, who has clearly reached the conclusion that (a) to surrender WMD would be suicide and (b) not using WMD in a future conflict would doom North Korea to defeat and the elimination through executions of the DPRK’s leadership core. Hence the determination of Supreme Leader Kim to continue with his nuclear missile and bomb program, no matter what the countermeasures of the US-Japan alliance ranged against him. Despite preparing for war, Kim Jong Un seeks both peace as well as unification, and in this context, the decision to send his sister Kim Yo Jong to Pyongchang to witness the Winter Olympics was a stroke worthy of a diplomatic maestro. Kim Yo Jong handled herself with tact and charming manners during her stay, where she was wisely treated with honour by President Moon Jae-In of South Korea.
The visit was intended to convince the people of South Korea that North Korea wanted not war but peace. However, this needed to be an honourable rather an imposed peace. In other words, no repeat of the German merger of the DDR with the FRG in 1989 but a formula based on equality of treatment and mutual accommodation and respect. Through his taking the risk of sending his own sister to a location filled with US forces, the North Korean leader has revived hopes for a peaceful unification of the two Koreas among the Korean people. However, such an outcome hinges on Tokyo and Washington as well, and both were dismayed by the success of Kim Yo Jong in charming her hosts.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.