By D. Allan Kerr
Um, did anyone happen to notice North Korea tested a new tactical guided weapon last week?
The event got somewhat overshadowed by the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia report, and what it means or doesn’t mean or could mean. That debate’s going to go on for a while.
But the weapons test occurred just a week after North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un instructed leaders in his party to “deal a telling blow to the hostile forces” imposing sanctions against his country.
And it was followed by the announcement Kim is traveling to Russia this month to meet with fellow dictator Vladimir Putin for the first time.
People say a lot of critical things about Kim, but there aren’t many who accuse him of being stupid. He’s now met with Donald Trump twice, giving him plenty of time to size up America’s president as feeble, easily distracted, and not too bright.
The tactical guided-weapon test last week isn’t believed to have been ballistic in nature, and so didn’t violate North Korea’s promise not to test nuclear weapons. Kim’s too smart for that. But he supposedly oversaw the event himself and was quoted as saying it had “very weighty significance in increasing the combat power of the People’s Army.”
And while details have been sketchy, the weapon was reported by Korean media as having a “powerful warhead.”
It’s the first publicized test since the failed summit with Trump in February, and follows a recent escalation of belligerent remarks by North Korean officials. Just last week, Kim set a deadline for the U.S. to come up with an acceptable nuclear disarmament agreement by the end of the year.
“What is clear is that if the U.S. clings to the current political reckoning, the outlook for resolving problems will be dark and very risky,” Kim said.
Then at a big conference of his communist Workers’ Party of Korea, Kim described “hostile forces who go with bloodshot eyes miscalculating that sanctions can bring (North Korea) to its knees.”
Other officials described America’s actions as “gangster-like” and demanded that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo be replaced in negotiations with someone “more careful and mature.” Pompeo is considered more skeptical of North Korea’s promises to disarm.
“As long as the North Koreans believe they can flatter and dupe the U.S. president into making important concessions,” American diplomat Daniel Russel told Reuters, “they will resist dealing with less gullible and more demanding subordinate U.S. officials.”
Trump has said he and Kim “fell in love,” but apparently, in this case, love is not enough.
Kim is essentially thumbing his nose at America, showing his military strength while staying within established boundaries so he can’t be accused of violating agreements.
But according to media reports, this weapon test occurred simultaneously with new activity at a missile research center and long-range rocket site where North Koreans are said to be building missiles which target the U.S.
Meanwhile, Putin now appears to be stepping into the void by inviting Kim to Russia. The Kremlin announced the visit this week – shortly after the guided-weapon test.
As it happens, right around the same time of Kim’s remarks to his party faithful earlier this month, Russia’s top diplomat claimed the world had lost faith in America’s leadership role.
“Unfortunately, our Western partners led by the United States do not want to agree on common approaches to solving problems,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a Moscow speech. “In order to artificially retain their dominance, to regain indisputable positions, they employ various methods of pressure and blackmail to coerce economically and through the use of information.”
This would mark Kim’s first official visit to Russia, although Putin has extended the invitation for several months now. While the U.S. has escalated sanctions on North Korea, Russia provides food aid to the country.
Putin said last year he is ready to “make all necessary efforts to establish ties, including in economic cooperation” with North Korea.
The Associated Press reports both countries are interested in ambitious projects which could be mutually beneficial – Russia covets North Korea’s mineral resources and North Korea eyes Russian investment to modernize its infrastructure.
Don’t be surprised if, after this summit, Putin pushes for the United Nations to ease economic sanctions against North Korea. Last year Russia and China both called for an “adjustment” of these sanctions.
Like Kim, Putin has had opportunities to size up Trump and is clearly not impressed. He’s already bucked against this White House by backing the regimes of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.
If Putin is as susceptible to Kim’s charms as Trump, the North Korean dictator might have a new dance partner.
D. Allan Kerr marvels yet again at Vladimir Putin’s foresight in helping Trump win the White House.
(April 21, 2019)