When North Korea’s roly‐poly Kim Jong Un threatens Americans with death and destruction, one is reminded of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick invading America in the Cold War novel “The Mouse That Roared.” If the North wasn’t a totalitarian dictatorship in which people starved to death, Pyongyang could be the set for a comedic farce.
There’s nothing unusual with the so‐called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea pouring vitriol on its enemies. South Koreans have lost count of the number of times the DPRK has threatened to turn Seoul into a “lake of fire.” Pyongyang’s YouTube video of New York City going up in flames was a first, but the North has regularly proclaimed the armistice to be at an end.
North Korea’s latest bellicosity is unusually violent, but nothing suggests that this Kim, any more than his father or grandfather, is suicidal. DPRK elites have demonstrated that they want to enjoy their virgins in this life.
The North’s bravado—and nuclear program—demonstrate that North Korean officials fear American power. When I visited the DPRK years ago, my hosts boasted that they had rebuilt the capital city of Pyongyang after the United States had leveled it during the Korean War. Their pride did not disguise their recognition that Washington could deploy overwhelming military force.
War still could start from mistake or miscalculation, but that always has been the case. Washington gains nothing from fixating on the intentions of a bankrupt and backward state which has little ability to strike Americans, except those Washington has voluntarily placed within range—the 28,500 military personnel stationed in South Korea.
Better would be to begin bringing them home, leaving North Korea’s neighbors to deal with Pyongyang.
The Cold War turned the Korean Peninsula into a battleground for America. But that ended when the Soviet Union dissolved.
The Republic of Korea has 40 times the GDP and twice the population of the North. Japan has the world’s third largest economy and a sophisticated military. China has interest in stability, if not democracy, on the peninsula. They have both the means and incentive to handle the DPRK.
There are international problems only Washington can confront. North Korea is not one of them.