North Korea has announced that it will conduct a nuclear test, and few doubt its resolve to do so.
To some degree, the escalating temper-tantrum that North Korea is engaged in has to do with its irritation that the United States is not talking to the failed communist state. Kim Jong Il and his government seem willing to ratchet up the threat of regional conflict if it doesn’t get America back across the table.
But this nuclear brinksmanship is also about Ban Ki Moon, South Korea’s former Foreign Minister, who is on the verge of ascending to the Secretary Generalship of the United Nations.
Ban Ki Moon’s likely appointment as Kofi Annan’s successor will represent the most serious legitimacy crisis for the North Korean leadership — perhaps since the ascension of Kim Il Sung’s son to the premiership, and perhaps even greater than that transition.
For a senior member of the South Korean diplomatic elite to be “elected” to a position that really does help run the world, many average North Korean citizens (i.e., victims of their own thug-ridden government) will feel pride in Ban Ki Moon.
In addition, Moon will have to wrestle with North Korean nuclear misbehavior in his UN role — and the reality of collision between the UN and North Korea is very high.
America should be talking to North Korea and trying to assemble a strategic game plan that provides the North Korea leadership a way to back out of its current lunacy. Frankly, we should be doing all we can to embrace the North Korean people with economic opportunity and the chance to improve their lives. We should be helping to fragment the North Korean governing elite by making some rich and others jealous.
But just waiting for a cataclysmic collapse or sitting by while all sides prepare for armed conflict in Northeast Asia would be disastrous for the U.S.
We need to talk with North Korea — and then we need to plot a strategy that really undermines the internal and external legitimacy of Kim Jong Il. Right now, we seem to be doing the things that add to his power and control of the state.
— Steve Clemons