The big red button

N Korea Nuclear MapsWhat on earth is going on in North Korea?

The small rouge nuclear state ordered its missile units to the “highest alert” on Friday and state media issued two photographs showing the North Korean leader sitting at a table surrounded by generals and maps (left).

One of the maps apparently says “Strategic Forces’ US Mainland Striking Plan” on it, although I can’t read Korean to confirm that. They even went so far as to draw lines showing where the missiles will travel to get there. Very strategic, huh?

So how scared should you be?

Well, under normal circumstances, I’d say giving a megalomaniac the big red button is good cause for running for the hills, but the particular evil genius in question wouldn’t make a very good Bond villain:

This is Kim Jong-un. He is 29 or 30 years old (nobody seems quite sure) and inherited rule of North Korea’s military dictatorship at the end of 2011 when his father died.

The latest belligerence and threats from North Korea are in response to a US military exercise in partnership with its ally South Korea, which involved sending B2 stealth bombers to dump dummy bombs on a South Korean island. In all fairness, the US perhaps unwisely went ahead and did this anyway, despite threats from North Korea earlier in the week.

Russia has warned that the whole affair is turning into a “vicious cycle”, which has the potential to ignite the region. But most experts do not see nuclear war as a likely possibility. North Korea is unlikely to have the range to attack the US and knows that doing so (or attacking South Korea) would be suicide.

I mean…seriously, Saddam didn’t even have nuclear weapons and look how it ended for him.

Kim Jong-un has a reputation to maintain, of course, for which bluster is crucial. Just ask Boris Johnson. North Korea follows a “military first” doctrine and pours more money into its armed forces than anything else. It has 1.1m troops, which sounds quite impressive. But as the Washington Post points out, it’s coolest kit looks like this:

Kim Jong Un inspects "new" military technology made by unit 1501 of the Korean People's Army. (REUTERS/KCNA)

And since the United Nations imposed more sanctions on the country because it went ahead with more nuclear tests, North Korea said it would do the following:

‘Nullify the 60-year armistice that had ended the Korean War…sever the emergency communication line with South Korea…order frontline troops to prepare to “cut the windpipes” of their enemies…threaten to “wipe out” a South Korean island and pledge “all out war”.’

North Korea is a bit of an enigma to the rest of the world. It completely isolates itself, allowing few foreign visitors and tightly controlling all media. North Koreans are told very little about the outside world, except that the US is a threat to them and that North Korea is a paradise. 

Undeniably, nuclear war in Northeast Asia would be disastrous. If the US became involved supporting its ally in the South, so would the rest of NATO (including Britain). China, which shares a border with the North, is unlikely to sit by and watch the fireworks.

For all the above, Kim Jong-un knows full well that doing anything more than sinking a few South Korean fishing boats will not end well for him. But the North Korean people don’t need to know that.

Bottom line: I’d say the chances of spotting the Easter Bunny this weekend rather outweigh the chances of thermo-nuclear conflagration in Asia. 


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