Kim Jong-un’s nuclear bluff looks like working. He and President Trump are on Singapore soil as I write, preparing to make a deal in which North Korea gives up its nuclear program in exchange for a range of benefits – to be negotiated. This is the end game of a strategy which probably began to take shape some years ago, possibly within a year or two of his becoming Supreme Leader in 2011.
Kim never envisioned using a nuclear device. He’s not stupid. The first flicker of a nuclear missile’s engine detected in North Korea would be extinguished by the fire and fury of which Donald Trump spoke. It would not even be a consideration by Kim to threaten any country or region. It’s a much smarter plan.
He seems as unpredictable and perhaps as cunning a deal maker as Trump. And he knows the art of a deal as well as Trump does. He’s read Trump’s book, to boot.
Kim inherited a torn and tattered economy with a massive standing army to feed, house and clothe, starving citizens who have no electricity at night and a hostile West, a rich but antagonistic South and reluctant friends to the East. The country could disappear and its exports would not be much missed: it has nothing that other countries can’t do without. No bargaining power, no cash and no future. His own comfort and safety are increasingly under threat.
So what to do? Create a currency that can be traded. A currency that can’t be denied. An offer that can’t be refused. That’s ‘How to Use Nukes 101’ came about. It wasn’t about using nuclear weapons but trading in them.
The booklet of instructions is thin and simple. Develop a credible nuclear threat and make plenty of noise about it. Fire off rockets, mouth off threats. Make sure there is plenty of video footage of Kim clapping and laughing in front of missile tests. Now, North Korea has something the world wants: the destruction of the nuclear threat. It’s the biggest and most powerful currency in global relations. It can be traded. It’s a very big chip on the gaming table.
Kim manoeuvres himself from zero to hero and the resulting set of agreements make him invulnerable to internal plots and a superhero to his people, a river of gold, no less.
The plan depended on fear, and there was the potential upside that Kim could secretly outwit the West as his father and grandfather had done, and keep some ‘currency’ in his secret back pocket. That’s no longer an option, given he is dealing with a United States led by Donald Trump. But it’s still a win-win outcome.
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