North Korea: A Threat or an Incompetent?

by on July 5th, 2006

Since yesterday’s launching of several missiles, one an inter-continental missile capable of striking the United States, political analysts and military strategists have taken a wide variety of positions concerning the threat that North Korea poses.

Many believe that Kim Jong Il is an incompetent dictator who couldn’t manage a small city much less a nation, but the fact remains that incompetence has never been a prerequisite for being a manifest danger, at the individual or global level. It’s a seductive exercise to recalibrate a threat, dumbing down its relative lethality, especially in our age when asymmetrical warfare tends to dominate discussions concerning the proximity of danger on our horizon.

But in the case of North Korea, which China bankrolls and others more obliquely support, and in particular with the likes of Kim Jong Il at the helm, we can be assured that they will make up with sheer determination what they clearly lack in technological prowess.

Combined with their renown for political miscalculation and a masterfully blunt diplomatic touch when dealing with its many adversaries, North Korea may best be characterized as being at a mid-point on a nuclear development trajectory that will inevitably achieve meaningful results, in one to three years.

The ability to see through the political miasma and confusion that permits otherwise prudent nations to lapse into a position of protracted indifference to a growing threat may be the key to prevailing against this nascent menace. But given our problems in Iraq and the seething threat in Iran, President Bush is in a compromised position when it comes to marshaling the political forces necessary to confront Kim Jong Il while he’s still a fledgling threat.

To gloss over, minimize, or distort the very real prospect of a nuclearized Korean peninsula is a recipe for regional and potentially global disaster. The demonstrable anemia at the United Nations aside, we simply must develop a seamless consensus predicated on the assumption that non-democratic, totalitarian nations must not be permitted to have a nuclear capability. More critically, a rigorous regimen must be developed that guarantees that such nations that are aspirants to a nuclear weapon must be stopped in their infancy.

Our track record on dealing with North Korea doesn’t bode well for taking this threat as seriously as we should, and calling them incompetent does little to mitigate the threat they may one day become.

Mella is Founder and Editor of

Philip Mella