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North Korea; A Serious Problem Or A Nuisance?

By James Donahue

North Korea is perhaps the last stronghold of what has been called the Stalinist form of Communist rule still operating in the world.

The nation’s 22,666,000 people are under the rule of totalitarian dictator Kim Jong-Il, 68-year-old son of the late “Eternal President” Kim Il-sung. The father was given the title “Eternal President” after his death in 1994 of a heart attack, so Kim Jong-Il bears the title of General Secretary and is known by the people as “Dear Leader.”

Kim Jong-Il was a powerful political figure behind his father as early as 1980 and has held the title of supreme commander of the North Korean military since December, 1991.

North Korea has been a nation of mystery that has remained closed to the outside world since the end of the Korean conflict in 1953. Since then, the country has been divided by a “demilitarized zone” at the infamous 38th Parallel. The United States and South Korean forces remained poised at the southern border, and North Korean forces remained on alert on the north. Rarely does anyone dare to step between then.

There never has been a peace treaty signed between the two halves of Korea, so the two sides have remained officially in a state of war for almost 60 years.

In the meantime, South Korea has become a capitalistic and democratic state where the people have prospered. The country has become a major industrial and commercial contributor to the world economic market. North Korea has been turned into a military dictatorship. Famine and hard living appear to be commonplace. Images from satellite cameras in space show large portions of North Korea in complete darkness during the night. This means there are few areas served by electric power.

There has been concern in recent years that the North Korean regime has been actively attempting to acquire nuclear and missile capability. Reported underground nuclear tests have not been confirmed, although Kim Jong-Il has attempted to claim to the world that he now possesses nuclear bombs. He also has successfully fired short range missiles capable of reaching South Korea. Long range missile launches to date have ended in failure although the United States military is monitoring events closely.

Kim Jong-Il has proven to be a tough world negotiator, using his possible threat to world peace as a bargaining chip to gain food and financial assistance from the world markets. It has worked successfully in the past. But a recent decision to abandon a promise to stop development of nuclear weapons and to conduct bomb and missile testing has revealed that past promises by this dictator are not to be trusted. Consequently the United Nations has called Mr. Kim’s bluff. This time he is not getting food shipments and the U. S. Navy has begun a strange embargo on North Korean ships. We don’t stop them, but each vessel is followed and then searched once docked in a foreign port.

North Korea recently warned that we risk an attack by its military. In June they warned they would “wipe the United States off the map” if we did not quit the embargo. The statement was all but a declaration of war. So should we be taking it seriously?

To date there is speculation that the show of nuclear and missile power has been a bluff by Kim Jong-Il designed to make the world take notice and to give his people some degree of pride in their government. But word is slowly creeping out of North Korea that the people are not only starving, they are living in deplorable conditions. For many the only way to survive is to join the military.  

North Korea is said to be the most militarized country in the world. Its army of 1.2 million soldiers is the fourth largest standing army in the world. Its navy consists of 704 ships and numerous coastal defense units equipped with artillery and surface-to-surface missiles. The vessels are old and obsolete, and are used mostly to patrol the coastal waters. The air force consists of over 1,600 older aircraft, many of them older Russian made MIGs, and surface-to-air missiles.

There also is a Special Operation Force of which little appears to be known.

Another issue involving North Korea has involved world currency. There has been a flood of very skillfully forged United States money and other financial documents on the world market that has been traced to North Korea. This is a serious attack on the U.S. money market that is exacerbating an already serious world financial crisis.

The other important event occurring in North Korea at this time involves a looming changing of leadership. After reports that Mr. Kim suffered a stroke last year that removed him from the public eye during numerous key national events, it was reported that the youngest son, Kim Jong-un, 26, has been named to succeed Mr. Kim in the event of his death.

Thus there is speculation that Mr. Kim’s health and the preparation to move his son into power are closely linked to the strange goings-on there this year. Kim runs the nation through propaganda that emphasizes his vigor, strength and youthfulness as a leader. It is such an important image that some analysts question how authorities are coping with the reality of his obvious declining health.

All of the military fanfare . . . the declaration of underground nuclear bomb tests and the test firing of missiles . . . have generated a theory that Kim is creating a climate for his son, Kim Jong Un, to succeed him under a show of military strength.

And like so much else about North Korea, little is known about the son. Whether North Korea will change once he comes into power will remain an unknown until this day arrives.

From our armchair we suggest that North Korea could be a serious threat, especially if provoked by its world neighbors into doing something rash. Famine has been a constant problem and we believe the United Nations should be negotiating food in exchange for better behavior, even if Kim has shown himself to be untrustworthy. His people do not deserve to suffer because of bad leadership.

If the day comes that our military confronts that North Korean army of 1.2 million lean goose-stepping soldiers, we must expect a blood-bath in the field. Kim may not have the capability of wiping the United States off the face of the map, but he has enough manpower and possibly the weaponry to cause a lot of trouble.

A war like that would be totally unnecessary, completely nonproductive, and so deadly that it must be avoided at all costs.