Kim Jong Un: North Korea's Caligula?

In light of the "historic" agreement signed between the United States and North Korea, perhaps now is a good time to evaluate the state of mind of North Korea's leader,  because he is the crucial piece in this puzzle.  United States Presidents come and go.  It's possible Donald Trump will either be impeached or indicted in the very near future.  His re-election in 2020 is no sure thing, so that by January 21, 2021 North Korea may have to forge a whole new relationship with a completely new President.  Whereas, absent some catastrophic upheaval in North Korea like a military coup, Kim Jong Un is likely to be "Mr. Big" in North Korea for quite some time to come.

The key question we have to face is how dependable is Kim Jong Un.  Historically, North Korean leaders have been extremely mercurial.  There have been other "historic moments" in the past when past American Presidents thought they had achieved peace in their time, only to have the agreement dry up and blow away due to an impulsive move from North Korea.

It is said President Trump is the most powerful man in the world.  He heads a country that is both the most formidable economic and military power on the planet.  But for all the power at his disposal, President Trump is ultimately accountable.  For instance, he could sign a peace treaty officially ending the Korean Conflict tomorrow.  But in order for that treaty to become effective,  it would have to be ratified by the United States Senate by a two-thirds majority.  If thirty-four senators determined that such a treaty was not in our best interests, the Senate could reject it and it would then be nothing more that so much paper and ink.  Kim Jong Un has no such restraints.  He is free to do whatever he wants to.

That is why it's so important to understand what kind of man Kim Jong Un is.  We know he's had no qualms about killing members of his own family in the not too distant past.  He has his own personal political prison, housing some 200,000 "enemies of the state".  His policies as the supreme leader of North Korea have impoverished millions of his fellow citizens, leading to their malnutrition, starvation, and ultimate deaths.  While he may not wield the pure power available to President Trump, the power he does yield is absolute and almost without restraint.

I say almost without restraint because Kim Jong Un is well aware of the fact that the source of power in his country is its military.  In one sense he may be the absolute dictator with seemingly unlimited power, but that power can be snatched away from him at a moment's notice, and he knows it!  Will he attempt to rectify that situation in the future by eliminating some of his rivals for that power?  And if the crown of power hangs precariously over his head, how reliable if the word of Kim Jong Un?

President Trump is to be congratulated in at least advancing the path to peace on the Korean peninsula this far.  But we have to appreciate the gamble he is taking on our behalf.  He has, in effect, put all our negotiating eggs in one fragile basket named Kim Jong Un.  It is not beyond the realm of the possible that this self same President Kim can smash all those eggs in a fit of petulant rage.

I'm not saying it's going to happen.  But then who in Rome would have thought the Emperor Caligula would name his horse to the Roman Senate?  But he did!  I'm not saying Kim Jong Un is another Caligula.  After all, Caligula was certifiably nuts.  But it IS something to think about.

By the way, pleasant dreams!

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  • In short, Un's his father's son and grandfather's grandson, something Trump could only hope to be, so the latter takes it out on Canada. Columnists are still questioning whether the U.S. got anything out of the deal, but, on the other hand, it was reported that the summit didn't get much play on DPRK TV.

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