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North Korea only looking out for itself

Jürgen Hanefeld
November 30, 2017

Pyongyang claims that its rockets can now reach every corner of the United States. But is that really what Kim Jong Un wants? His sole aim is to maintain his grip on power, says Jürgen Hanefeld.

Nordkorea Kim Jong-Un
Image: Reuters/KCNA

Four years ago, when Kim Jong Un announced that North Korea's missile program would be successfully completed by the end of 2017, nobody listened. He was scoffed at as a "nut," or "unpredictable." Others discounted his ability to govern, wondering how long he would even be in power? And when Kim announced that North Korea was on its way to becoming a nuclear power two years later, and that he was prepared to negotiate with the United States about disarmament, everyone laughed at him. Yet, now there is much less laughing and every last person must face the fact that the man should be taken seriously.

A historic day?

Jürgen Hanefeld
Jürgen Hanefeld heads the East Asia bureau of German public broadcaster ARD in TokyoImage: NDR/Christian Spielmann

Of course no one knows whether his rockets are really capable of wiping out New York or Washington, DC. But do we really want to find out? Wouldn't it make more sense to assess the risk rather than to accept it? At this point we cannot know whether Wednesday's missile test will go down as a historic day but it has the makings of one: North Korea has declared itself a nuclear power! That not only means an increased threat, it also presents an opening. Everyone knows that even if North Korean nuclear missiles could hit any place in the US, they could only do it once. After that there would be no more Pyongyang, nor a Korea for that matter – North or South.

So what is Kim really after? He simply wants to protect himself. He wants to cement his grip on power. And that is precisely why he wants to meet with the US as an equal. Not with South Korea, a country he knows the US has on a leash, at least militarily. And not with China, which meanders back and forth between its economic and strategic interests. No, Kim versus Donald Trump is the game that North Korea is putting its money on.

This is about peace

One might be inclined to scream, "What hubris!" But looked at rationally, there is no other alternative. Trump is powerless to do anything — no matter how many aircraft carriers he dispatches and despite his country's colossal military advantage — unless he is willing to put South Korea on the line and eventually risk unleashing a third world war. Wouldn't it be worth sacrificing a bit of his own enormous ego if the US president would sit down and speak with Kim rather than tweeting about him? It would not be the first time that a US president had to sit down with a dictator to get them to behave. Most of the time such meetings with despots are about oil, arms or cash. This time it is about something much more important: Peace.