by Jerry Mooney
As the year winds down, it’s impossible not to breathe a sigh of relief. It has, after all, been a year of Trump and Brexit negotiations. And, the tempestuous political climate has certainly taken its toll. While we can’t be sure what the next year has to bring, it seems at the moment as though things couldn’t get much worse.
The main political issue on our minds is, of course, North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. Not a day goes by without some terrifying update on the situation. Most recently, a missile has been released which would be capable of reaching as far as Washington. While the test run led to some issues on re-entry, the fact that such a missile exists is enough to send fear through most of our hearts.
Of course, it’s taken awhile to get to this point. Tensions between North Korea and the U.S. have been brewing all year. While some of us initially hoped Trump could calm the situation, we were bitterly disappointed by his improvised and provocative speech, where he promised that North Korean threats would be “…met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”. Since then, the situation has only worsened, with Trump’s national security advisor declaring this week that the potential for war is growing each day.
Indeed, from the outside, the situation seems pretty hopeless. Neither Trump nor Jong Un look willing to back down. It’s no wonder, then, that many of us are left wondering just what the threat levels are. Despite blown up statements from various members of Congress, many of us are left wondering how real the North Korean threat is. Should we be preparing bunkers and stockpiling food?
While it’s difficult to judge what two such impulsive figures will do, it seems safe to say that we’re not on the brink of war just yet. We seem to be in an antagonistic stage, which has yet to turn into anything more sinister. Bear in mind, too, that no country WANTS to use nuclear weapons. Doing so would spell mutually destroyed destruction, and has kept us safe from large-scale warfare since the days of the cold war.
It’s also fair to say that most of our fear comes from the unknown entity of North Korea. This is the most secretive nation in the world. In fact, it’s near enough impossible to gain an accurate representation of life here. Tourists are shown a very slanted idea of North Korea. The closest picture we can gain is from defectors, like Yeonmi Park, who have come forward and shared their stories.
Kim Jong Un has built his personality by feeding into that mystery. It’s thought that even his age (33) is just an estimate. While many of us fear the unpredictable behavior of Trump, at least we know facts regarding his lifestyle. The same just can’t be said for the North Korean leader. Hence, we have no real way of knowing if he’ll follow through on his seeming provocation.
That said, research can help us gather a picture of Kim Jong Un which may help to put some people’s minds at ease. By unraveling the mystery, we can certainly understand his motivations a little better. Here are some of the facts that you may not have been aware of.
Few of us think of Kim Jong Un as an educated man. Certainly, the media often depict him as someone who doesn’t use logic when making decisions. But, like many world leaders, Jong Un’s education was top notch. During his teen years, he studied under a pseudonym at one of Switzerland’s top private schools. On top of which, he also has two degrees to his name, one in physics, and another as an Army officer.
In short; this isn’t a trigger-happy man who doesn’t know what he’s doing. While some reports claim that Jong Un leads his army with no training, it just isn’t true. Plus, anyone with a physics degree will be fully aware of the risks related to nuclear weapons.
There also seems to be a general idea that Kim Jong Un doesn’t really travel anywhere. Perhaps it’s because North Korea seems like a whole world away. Many of us have this idea of a leader who hasn’t seen much of the world and has lived a sheltered existence. Again, it isn’t true. As mentioned above, Jong Un spent most of his teen years living abroad. There are also reports of young visits to China and Japan. In fact, Jong Un even has a favorite jet; the Ilyushin IL-62, as featured on this list of the top five Ilyushin aircraft. Admittedly, there have been no reports of his leaving the country since becoming leader in 2011. Plus, planned UN visits haven’t come to fruition. Most people suspect this is down to fear. But, it would be incorrect to assume that travel has never been on this leader’s cards.
To demystify the persona a little more, it’s worth noting that Kim Jong Un is a massive basketball fan. When he was younger, he was an avid supporter of Michael Jordan. He’s even developed a close friendship with retired NBA player, Dennis Rodman, who he’s met on various occasions. He’s also rumoured to have an extensive collection of Nike shoes. These are hardly hobbies you would automatically associate with America’s enemy number 1.
The history of North Korean weapons
It’s also worth finding out a little about North Korea’s nuclear past. While no one can deny that tests have come more to the fore this year, that doesn’t necessarily mean that nuclear warfare is a completely new concept for North Korea. In fact, the country’s missile program was initially developed in the 1970s, with the help of the then Soviet Union. But, in 1985, North Korea signed a little something called the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Still, things haven’t been plain sailing since then. As early as 1993, The International Atomic Energy Agency had questions over North Korea’s dedication, nearly resulting in their pulling out of the treaty. Jump forward to 2002, and Bush highlighted North Korea as a country which was ‘seeking weapons of mass destruction’. Later that same year, he revealed that North Korea had admitted to a secret nuclear arsenal.
In 2003, North Korea withdrew from the NPT agreement and declared its nuclear weapons. Testing then started in 2006, and North Korea and America have been involved in disputes on the matter ever since. While North Korea did originally accept a settlement of $400 million to close its main nuclear reactor, this doesn’t seem to have solved anything, with more tests taking place in 2009. In fact, as it stands, there have been six nuclear tests, only two of which were conducted this year.
So, what does it all mean?
A look at the facts does prove that things are getting worse. After all, the two tests from this year have been on intercontinental missiles. But, remember, Kim Jong Un is an educated man with a degree in physics. More than even Trump, this is a man who knows the risks of a nuclear arsenal. And, if North Korean spokespeople are anything to go by, this is more about defence than attack. That said, it’s still worth noting that, as things heat up between the two leaders, our futures look increasingly uncertain. All we can do is keep an eye on the news, and hope the two countries find a way to settle their differences.
Jerry Mooney is co-founder and managing editor of zenruption and Jerry Mooney Books and the author of History Yoghurt and the Moon. He studied at the University of Munich and Lewis and Clark College where he received his BA in International Affairs and West European Studies. He has recently taught Language and Communications at a small, private college and owned various businesses, including an investment company. Jerry is committed to zenrupting the forces that block social, political and economic justice. He can also be found on Twitter.