By Ian Hutchinson
When CNN’s infographics show Alaska within range of North Korean nuclear weapons, it can be hard to think about anything except how the strange country’s rhetoric and actions are aimed at destroying us.
However, it’s important we stop to consider why the country’s ruling dynasty acts the way it does and what that means for the United States.
North Korea, a state about the size of Mississippi with a population of 25 million, is currently governed by the dictatorial regime of Kim Jong Un, the third in the line of the Kim family that has ruled since the 1950s. For the boy-faced leader, there is one driving mission: the survival of his government.
Over the years of his life, the young dictator has seen the fate of other countries around the world that opposed the United States and paid the price — Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, obliterated in 2003, and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, killed by a coalition airstrike in 2011, are some prime examples.
The thing that connects these dots — in the mind of Kim Jong Un — is they didn’t have nuclear weapons; they lacked a tool of persuasion so powerful that it could restrain even the military might of the United States.
For this reason, the North Korean state has poured much of its limited resources into creating a nuclear weapon that could be delivered to the United States.
As a result, Pyongyang is the owner of an array of fairly sophisticated ballistic weaponry while millions of its citizens go hungry.
As scary as that sounds, one must keep this in mind: just because a state has nuclear weapons does not mean that it will use them. Remember, the goal of Pyongyang’s elites is to remain in power.
Even though North Korean spokesmen and women regularly update their people on the “atrocities” of the United States and the different, multifaceted ways in which we are the ultimately villain of the Earth, destined for righteous destruction, we should realize that this bluster isn’t necessarily aimed at us; it’s also aimed at the domestic audience.
By creating an image of the United States as a country bent on the destruction of Pyongyang and the image of Kim Jong Un as the great protector of the nation, the ruling elites in North Korea consolidate their power.
By spinning a narrative to their people that they, and only they, can protect everyday North Koreans from the bloodthirsty Americans, Kim Jong Un and his cronies pull the wool over their citizenry’s eyes.
So if (more likely when) the North Koreans finally show the world that they have a functional inter-continental ballistic missile, is a nuclear strike impending?
No! That would entirely undermine the whole purpose of North Korea getting the nuclear weapons in the first place. Nuclear weapons work best as a shield, not as a spear. Kim Jong Un, despite his peculiarity, knows that launching a strike against the U.S. homeland would result in Pyongyang being converted to a parking lot in short order.
If and when the Kim regime gets nuclear weapons, it will retain them as a vague threat against the United States to ensure its own domestic security, so it can continue pilfering wealth from its people to allow its continued overlord status.
Not to say that a nuclear-armed North Korea isn’t a big deal — it is, but a nuclear-armed North Korea doesn’t necessarily mean that nuclear holocaust is imminent, just that the world is a slightly less safe place than it was before. See? It’s not that bad!
Ian Hutchinson is a Greenfield native pursuing his master’s degree in international affairs in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.