No SpaghettiO’s for you, Kim Jong Un

Why the most recent temper tantrum of the explosive young dictator of North Korea is not a big deal, and why he still won’t be getting what he wants

Kim Jong Un

By Tedumas (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

You can keep screaming and kicking. Hell, cry your heart out and shout at the top of your lungs until an avalanche erupts on Mount Everest. You still won’t get what you want.

For the past month now, Kim Jong Un has been floundering in his own seething anger as he continues to drag out his usual outlandish temper tantrum akin to one thrown by a child over a can of SpaghettiO’s in the canned foods section of the supermarket. Desperate for attention, the dictatorial tyrant has spewed yet another nuclear threat at the annual Foal Eagle military exercises between the United States and South Korea that he disapproves of so immensely. Consequently, two DPRK mid-range ballistic missiles originating from Pyongyang soared overseas for about a few hundred kilometers before plummeting into the ocean. This outburst takes place as the leaders of the U.S. and South Korea met with the president of Japan at the Hague,

Well, Mr. Kim, you’ve certainly grabbed the attention you were seeking. With unusual haste, the United Nations Security Council met behind closed doors on Thursday emerging with a unanimous condemnation of the missile launches. The Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee is also investigating the possibility of expanding the U.N. blacklist to encompass more North Korean nuclear entities in addition to those already listed, although it will most likely take several weeks for an agreement on the action to be reached.

While South Korea, the United States, and the UN are interpreting his most recent antics as an international threat, this seems little more than another one of Kim’s outlandish outbursts of inconsequential aggression that will quickly blow over as Foal Eagle operations approach their close in April. One may recall last year’s Foal Eagle operations when Kim publicized threats of hurling nuclear missiles at the United States in retaliation to its warm relations with the South. To this threat, Washington responded by hurriedly deploying a series of missile interceptors to Guam, complementing those already stationed at Fort Greely, Alaska. But this action was intended only to warn North Korea that the United States is certainly capable of matching its bombastic rhetoric. Needless to say, no defensive action was necessary as Foal Eagle activities came and went without any intervention from the ballistic dictator. This year’s scenario is a carbon copy; we can safely assume that Kim’s most recent threats are as hollow as ever.

Unless Kim’s threatening actions transcend mere intimidation, we know well enough that there is no real threat at hand here. Each year, North Korea becomes enraged by these annual military drills ensuing in the South, and each year reacts with threats of nuclear action that dwindle to oblivion with the culmination of the exercises. Although it is estimated that the missiles launched Wednesday are capable of being launched to Japan, Pyongyang will stop short of sending the missiles over the Japanese islands. Moreover, everyone knows that even Psy’s “Gangnam Style” has more hits than North Korea’s faulty missiles ever will. So no need to take cover from the illusory war threat – Kim will surely simmer down as the coming weeks pass.

Is it worth considering that perhaps the troublesome leader has some new antics up his sleeve? Every year, there is the possibility that if Kim does not elicit the immediate reaction he wants from his enemies, he may attempt to launch a small-scale ground attack against the South. Knowing very well from previous tantrums that the playpen fence barring him from South Korea is far too strong to tackle, Kim may try throwing the ball over this time. What that ball would be – a missile, propaganda balloon, etc. – is anybody’s’ guess.

Even still, it is highly unlikely that Kim will match his rhetoric with reality. The plan is an ugly backfire waiting to happen. Chances that North Korea’s actions would be met with a response of equal nuclear force from the international community are slim to none. So the way that I look at it, as Kim’s outlandish pouting and grumpy attitude drags on, there are really only two options that the U.S., South Korea, and Japan, and the U.N. can take; these states can either look past his tantrums and troubling rhetoric or, in the case that North Korea does end up pursuing a ballistic strike, take military action forcing Kim into a timeout.

Nevertheless, North Korea’s nuclear capacity remains limited. The world will most likely yet again witness the disappearance of North Korea’s meandering threats with the culmination of Foal Eagle in early April. The annual military exercises will continue, despite Kim’s belligerent disapproval. The most to take away from this entire situation is that the only “explosive” thing at play here is Kim’s infantile temperament. We’ve seen this childish temper tantrum erupt and wane one too many times already. So stop banging your fists and causing a scene, Kim – you’re still not getting your SpaghettiO’s.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.

Vladimir Putin: Master of the World’s Greatest Imitation Democracy

Vladimir Putin - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2009

Vladimir Putin – World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2009 (flickr, World Economic Forum)

Vladimir Putin is the most tactful political leader of our time. While some may gawk at his strange leadership style, including a growing string of “Putin Action Man” photos as representative of a clownish leader, Putin’s ability to project a strong foreign policy and maintain control over a great power should be taken very seriously. Most recently, Putin has been able to uphold Russia’s interest in Syria while projecting himself as a world peacemaker as the U.S. recovers from a massive political fumble. This is no easy task, even for a former KGB man. On the home front, he has consistently bent the rules to empower himself – and his regime – at great cost to his own citizenry. Over the past decade, he has purged political opponents, denigrated Russian civil society, and allegedly siphoned off billions of dollars for his own gain, perhaps making him one of the richest men in the world. He accomplished all of these actions while maintaining popular support from Russians. Indeed, reports indicate Putin would have won the previous 2012 election even if the vote had not been rigged. He has also just announced the possibility of running for another 6-year term in 2018, which, if he wins, would make him the longest-serving leader of Russia since Josef Stalin. Even though history has shown that Russians tend to be pre-disposed to accepting authoritarian leaders, Putin’s rise to power in an increasingly democratic world is the mark of a master autocrat.

Unlike many other world leaders who have come to power through familial connections, personal wealth, or coup d’état, Putin’s ascension is unique. As a trained intelligence officer who operated overseas under the KGB, and as the former head of the FSB (Russia’s successor to the KGB), Putin is arguably better prepared to maintain political dominance more than most other world leaders. Putin’s foreign policy machine was able to manipulate world leaders and the UN Security Council into stalling on Syria for over 2 years while continuing to sell advanced weapons to the murderous regime. Russia then proposed a peace deal that overshadowed a flustered and disjointed U.S. Additionally, Putin’s craftiness in foreign policy is alarmingly evident in Russia’s expanding sphere of influence. Putin shunned Western Europe when he forced Armenia and other nations away from the EU and into an exclusive Eurasian economic union that is growing in size and prominence. To accomplish such objectives, Putin is known to use coy power tactics in his diplomatic dealings; one such example is his taking advantage of Angela Merkel’s fear of dogs by bringing his trusted companion to diplomatic negotiations with Germany. Putin truly puts the bite in foreign policy leaving his counterparts flabbergasted at his aggressive wielding of power and influence. This bold leadership style has certainly contributed to the rise of Russia’s global power projection when compared to its status at the beginning of the 21st century.

On the domestic stage, Putin is gradually bringing back a Stalinist-like society, feeding off of growing xenophobic and conservative attitudes held by many Russians. However, Putin dominates political life in a stealthier manner than Stalin. Putin has removed competitors from power under the guise of well-timed, government sponsored anti-corruption campaigns as opposed to mass killings. The removal of Russia’s richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, along with activist Alexei Navalny’s conviction and subsequent temporary release from his prison sentence to compete in a mayoral election, both stand as illustrative examples of Putin’s tactful political purges. Although these men were not taken to a house and shot in the back of the head, both were convicted in blatantly manufactured court rulings, affording the Putin regime solid political victories under the façade of judicial legitimacy.

Proponents of democratic reform in Russia should be particularly alarmed by Putin’s heavy regulation and interference in Russia’s civil society. Indeed, the Russian leader has thoroughly stomped on democratic principles by heavily regulating and restricting budding civil society groups, most notably by branding all NGOs that receive foreign funding as “foreign agents,” which evokes immense suspicion from Russian citizens because of the negative connotation of this label. The jailing of political dissidents such as the “Pussy Riot” band also discourages an atmosphere of protest and certainly prevents a healthy civil society from taking root. Putin’s grip on Russia’s domestic affairs has tightened and appears to be strong-as-ever for the foreseeable future.

Putin’s contradictions are too many to count. He holds elections only to rig them. He praises the impartiality of the Russian judicial system, and then uses it to jail political opponents. He projects himself as a world peacemaker and continues to support murderous regimes. He expresses a desire for public diplomacy but constantly stimulates anti-foreigner sentiments among his people. He worships state sovereignty and then uses obstructionist tactics to bully other nations into economic and military cooperation. Russia, a place former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov referred to as an “imitative democracy,” will never be able to transform itself into a true democracy as long as a Vladimir Putin is at the helm. So next time you see Putin projecting his dominance while riding a horse in Siberia, avoid labeling his antics as foolish and instead recall his ever-tightening grip as master of the world’s greatest imitation democracy.

Is NATO Still Relevant?

 

For the last two decades, NATO has been conflicted about how and where to act. This identity crisis has led to inter-alliance strife, messy operations, and inaction. Currently, NATO is paralyzed in responding to the Syrian Crisis due to—among other reasons—an uncharacteristic rift between the American and British governments. In light of such shortcomings, along with a perceived United States pivot away from Europe, increased European Union security engagement after the Lisbon Treaty of 2010, and shifting methods of warfare (i.e., drones and computers in place of land forces), pundits and politicians have disputed the continued relevance of NATO.

Yet NATO is unquestionably relevant today. First, NATO provides a forum for world leaders to discuss matters of global defense and security. Second, NATO is currently engaged in operations around the world from anti-piracy missions in the Horn of Africa to nation building in Afghanistan, the alliance is directly connected to today’s issues. Third, NATO actively shapes transatlantic—and consequently global—foreign policy. For instance, Article V of the NATO treaty (‘an attack on one is an attack on all’) serves as a deterrent to those considering harming a member of the alliance. Most recently, the intervention in Libya exemplified how NATO’s military involvement has real ramifications, serving as a partial catalyst for the subsequent full-scale revolution seen in the state.

NATO’s relevance is incontrovertible. However, proving relevance seems unsatisfactory to pundits and politicians. Perhaps, the crux of the dispute is NATO’s continued value.

NATO’s value lies in the absence of an alternative. NATO is the most formidable and sophisticated military organization in the world, thanks in large part, but not exclusively, to the US. As Ambassador Ivo Daalder and former Supreme Allied Commander Europe James Stavridis explained: “Some countries have significant military reach. But when a group of countries wants to launch a joint intervention as a coalition—which confers political legitimacy—only NATO can provide the common command structure and capabilities necessary to plan and execute complex operations.” Moreover, the EU has shown an inability to pool the security and defense resources of its member states. If the alliance were to disband, no member state besides the US would be able to assume full responsibility for their national defense.

The future for NATO will certainly be challenging. NATO faces various threats, from shrinking budgets to intra-alliance friction and changing political environments. Further, the coverage of Article V is unclear. Consider a hypothetical Russian cyber attack on the British banking sector. Would this constitute an act of war? NATO has this and other critical questions to answer. Can and should NATO act without unanimity? Should the Europeans establish military autonomy or continue to rely on the equipment and chaperoning of the US? And most fundamentally, is NATO an alliance that truly wants to act outside of its borders? NATO must answer these questions in order to stay relevant in the 21st century.

To address modern security challenges, NATO must embrace non-military capabilities. As Afghanistan revealed, terrorism cannot be eradicated with missiles. Errant drone strikes only further incentivize people to join terrorist organizations, and brigades of troops cannot dismantle global wireless organizations. Piracy too requires a more comprehensive approach. The best way to fight crises such as terrorism and piracy is to deal with the root causes, such as food insecurity, lack of access to education, and corrupt state leadership. This holistic theory for crisis management is not revolutionary, yet NATO (especially the US) has forgotten that war is a long-term humanitarian and security project. To NATO’s credit, reforms are in place to fuse civilian and military crisis management capabilities. These reforms must continue, as well as continued cooperation with the UN and EU.

A retreat of NATO to its historical role of defending European territory is outdated and ignores the global and diverse nature of 21st century conflict. Non-state global issues such as cyber and energy security, piracy, and climate change require a response for which NATO is uniquely prepared. Armed with demonstrated military capabilities and global transnational partnerships, NATO is already well positioned for carrying out integrated “hard security” and “soft security” operations. If NATO can unite under a new strategic framework, and stand determined to tackle the “hard” and “soft” security challenges presented in today’s environment with more than military force and surveillance, the alliance will remain both relevant and valuable.