Viewpoint: North Korea’s Gaddafi Nightmare

Pyongyang and Kim Jong Un may be acting up because they believe they know the lessons of giving up weapons of mass destruction

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KCNA / HANDOUT / REUTERS

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un presides over a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang on March 31, 2013

If you want to know what’s going through the mind of the North Korean regime, go back to the murder of Muammar Gaddafi. The way the North Koreans look at it, Gaddafi gave up his nuclear bomb and lost his head. The lesson of Saddam Hussein’s end is another cautionary tale for the North Koreans. If Saddam had held on to his weapons of mass destruction — and lots of them — the U.S. would have had second thoughts about invading his country. Or so I’m told by a former CIA colleague, and one of the best-informed North Korean watchers around.

North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, like his father and his grandfather, exists in a rococo fantasy. He truly believes that North Korea possesses an invincible military, that his generals are brilliant, that he could take Seoul in a matter of days. He also believes that as a superpower, North Korea deserves a nuclear arsenal. There can’t be any other avenue to the international respect North Korea deserves.

(MORE: North Korea’s Nuclear Cul-De-Sac)

It’s in this context, as delusional as it may be, that it’s close to certain that Kim has no intention of backing down in the current confrontation with the U.S. While it’s unlikely his intention is to start a war with the U.S., he also doesn’t intend to give up an inch to cool things down. And superpowers don’t submit at the sound of a little saber rattling.

Classic diplomacy hasn’t worked either. The State Department recently explored the possibility of bypassing the North Korean regime hard-liners, especially those inside the Kim family, and instead make some sort of deal with the rational elements in the leadership. But it proved impossible to break through the impenetrable armor of this little hermit kingdom.

China has been another fruitless avenue. Although the Chinese provide 90% of North Korea’s fuel and nearly half of its food, there’s only so much pressure the Chinese can bring to bear on the North Koreans. Again, it goes back to North Koreans’ sense of self-interest, i.e. their survival. They believe that when push comes to shove, the Chinese (and the Russians) can’t do anything to keep the leaders of Pyongyang from losing their heads. Just as America’s sweet words whispered in Gaddafi’s ear got him nothing, Chinese promises are worthless.

(PHOTOS: North Korea Ratchets Up Tension on the Peninsula)

To date North Korea’s threats and actions have been mostly bluster. The missiles it moved to its east coast on Thursday cannot hit American bases in Guam. It was a signal to the U.S. that Pyongyang won’t be intimidated. All the B-2 bombers and F-22 fighters flying along North Korea’s borders will be met with escalation.

It’s a mystery to me why Washington ever thought that dancing with the feathers of fallen dictators like Gaddafi and Saddam would leverage our influence with dictators like Kim. Anyhow, the point now is that we’d better start looking at a way to walk this thing back rather than tightening the tourniquet.

Nothing is for certain when it comes to North Korea, but the chances are good it will shoot something up to restore its dignity — perhaps a South Korean fishing boat or another South Korean navy vessel. Let’s hope that this is the worst, or that some accident doesn’t occur. In the meantime we’d better start thinking about how we can quietly but demonstrably figure out how to help North Korea get its “respect” back.

(MORE: North Korea’s Saber Rattling: Is the Bark Worse Than the Bite?)

I recognize that this would be tantamount to political hara-kiri considering the crisis, but we may want to start thinking about letting North Korea into the nuclear club. Just some sort of nominal membership: a couple bombs and regular invitations to club functions. They’re about to have a functioning bomb anyhow, so why not make the most of it? The downside to this of course is that Iran would want to be in the club, and then Saudi Arabia, and — I don’t — Venezuela. It’s something that would have to be worked out with the North Koreans.

I know this isn’t a pretty position to be in. But it’s better than a full-on war with a delusional and paranoid young man with a chip on his shoulder.

PHOTOS: Scenes From North Korea’s Kaesong Industrial Zone

Baer, a former Middle East CIA field officer, is TIME.com’s intelligence columnist and the author of See No Evil and The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower.

167 comments
kellerjosef260
kellerjosef260

Baer- let me tell You , who is running the nuclear scene in SK  , Putin and a group of Germans who have graduated in Darmstadt Germany.Not much control is given to KIM. When Kim is given  the go ahed to make such and such a statement ,he will do it,not a problem. So, 13 mar 2013 "we are going to attack USA" without warning."   Somebody required KIM to say this, so he did,he was born and raised this way. He had no problem in saying this  for 2 good reasons 1) he know there is no retaliation because reason number 2   .    2) he knew it's not gonna happen

kellerjosef260
kellerjosef260

under 70 noone seen combat.  Baer  who was fighting in Sudan eritrea and ogaden = NK Infantry-men.

WilliamBarnes
WilliamBarnes

I think your reasoning is faulty. North Korea acts like an adolescent spoiled brat and needs to be treated as one........with a firm hand and fed reasonable education and direction, which I doubt it will get from China, who would rather ignore it and wish it would go away. Or..... get ready for a soup line of similar 'not so hermity' kingdoms after the same handouts = Give me what I deserve (by my standards) or I'll throw a tantrum =  blackmail).

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

Shoulda let Saddam keep Kuwait and thus enforce the region more cheaply

jimmy6p
jimmy6p

Unless it's just that my coffee hasn't kicked in yet and I'm missing the humor, I'm thinking it's Mr. Baer that's 'delusional' here.

What's really needed is a reason to go into North Korea and rescue the millions of starving people there, including much of Fat Un's Army.

cslap65
cslap65

what an imbecile i bet he wears womans panties

JimMorgan
JimMorgan

This guy must have worked for Neville Chamberlain in an earlier life

JohnWilliams1
JohnWilliams1

It's in no one's best interest to sit back and allow the North to have a nuclear arsenal, no matter how small. All that will amount to is another tool for the North to bully more aid out of its neighbors. The fact of the matter is, that eventually, we will go back to a shooting war with North Korea. I'd rather fight it now while they don't have a handful of nukes.

GeraldO'Hare
GeraldO'Hare

Nonsense pure nonsense by a weak writer. North Korea has no combat veterans under the age of 70 and most of its forces are massed at the DMZ leaving the flanks open. Now is the time to strike at the leadership, pound the troops into bunkers with no supply lines. Without leaders the NK Army would be in complete chaos. The midrange missiles can be shot out of the sky.

GeraldO'Hare
GeraldO'Hare

Nonsense pure nonsense by a weak writer. North Korea has no combat veterans under the age of 70 and most of its forces are massed at the DMZ leaving the flanks open. Now is the time to strike at the leadership, pound the troops into bunkers with no supply lines. Without leaders the NK Army would be in complete chaos. The midrange missiles can be shot out of the sky.

Marcelo
Marcelo

Men of evil, take decisions without thinking of the children and their families. But God hath righteousness. For a pay everyone.

rap31264
rap31264

"He truly believes that North Korea possesses an invincible military, that his generals are brilliant, that he could take Seoul in a matter of days."

I don't think "believe" is the correct word...He's been told that his whole life so it's so ingrained like the thinks he's a god...the loser...



oldwhiteguy
oldwhiteguy

Its always right never to overestimate the intentions, planning and intelligence of guys like Sadaam, Muammer and Kim.  They really don't think too much further than their next meal and Kim is eating pretty good.  He's there because China wants a buffer zone.  They recall us invading that country the same way we might recall somebody invading Mexico - with a long memory.  So Kim's dad and Kim and all their fat cat buddies know that their meal ticket is to make us dance - and stay out.  What's important for us to do is to recognize that NK is not going to invade anybody.  Yes, they might stage an incident, but if and when they do, we have to step away from any kind of fight.  Meanwhile, we have to communicate to China that we have no intention of, and never will, put troops into NK.  We have to use that in the hopes that the nuclear march will be halted.  We do NOT need yet another altercation. We've been fighting somebody, somewhere constantly for decades, from Grenada to Viet Nam to Afghanistan.  Could we please not fall for this again?

mannsj
mannsj

Anyone remember that Hussein had the option of allowing UN Inspectors into suspected WMD sites? Simple compliance with the will of the UN would have kept him in power and prevented the neck stretching.

MofromRo
MofromRo

Turned out that Saddam didn't actually have any weapons of mass destruction.  Or didn't Time hear about that?   WMD was the lie used to get us into that stupid war that destroyed over one million people and countless lives.  


Gstone
Gstone

Poor attempt at journalism. You've failed the most basic and golden rule, "PROOF READ". The Bush administration invaded Iraq, not Obama, and the general air of this piece is overly speculative and under-researched. I expect better from TIME...

tomkinney54
tomkinney54

What good did being a nuclear power do Pakistan?

NickyGrahams1
NickyGrahams1

 If you think Shirley`s story is good..., five weeks ago my brother also got a cheque for $8875 workin fourteen hours a week from their apartment and they're neighbor's sister`s neighbour was doing this for seven months and got paid more than $8875 in there spare time from a labtop. use the guide here, Big44.comCHECK IT OUT

mag58
mag58

you actually receive a paycheck for writing crap like this? OMG what a load of losers we have on this planet!

ReaderwithaBadge
ReaderwithaBadge

The Obama Administration couldnt have had any second thoughts about invading Iraq because the Bush administration had already invaded Iraq. Everybody in this story is tainted by that pathetic lapse-the writer, the editor, the fact checker, even the anonymous North Korean expert. Maybe this is emblematic of the problems that are leading to the magazines sale. Or maybe its just sloppiness-sloppy thinking and sloppy writing-you know the kind that uses phrases like "slam dunk".

rhesus
rhesus

This guy gets paid to write, and tells us Obama invaded Iraq.  Editors get paid to edit, and let that one slip.  Yet I am unemployed.

JoeyPaggi
JoeyPaggi

Nice try to rewrite history Mr. Baer. There were no weapons of mass destruction and it was the BUSH administration that invaded Iraq. After all that fiction, I was expecting to read how Dennis Rodman is actually the one who calls the shots over in NK. 

NormanLum
NormanLum

Who proofreads this stuff? The Obama administration invaded Iraq? Umm, that was the Bush administration.

JustinBaker
JustinBaker

are you friggin nuts? has legalized pot caught on at Langley? there is no way those crackerjack kim chi commies should ever be allowed to have nukes! i say we turn the whole thing into a glass parking lots if they make one wrong move and in the process send the Red Chinese a message that bad behavior is unacceptable. but then they say i am crazy... maybe it is much better to have a regime with connections to smuggling and organized crime set up McNuclear franchise for all the other world's despotic governments.

Daperez1
Daperez1

The DPRK is too stubborn  and it is virtually impossible to change their minds about their persuit of nuclear weapons. They already have the capability to produce nuclear weapons they just lack an effective way of transporting a bomb. If the International community were to give in to their demands and provide them economic support(which they want) then how would that look to Iran and the current situation there? The situation with North Korea coincides with that in Iran. If World War III were to happen I dont see in starting in Korea, The Kim dynasty wishes to remain in power and I would think even they know that a war would be an end to the regime. WWIII would start in the middle east, I believe. And the islamic extremists have no boundaries. The Iraninan government is watching North Korea push the limits and their final decision on their Nuclean ambitions i believe rests with the outcome of what the International community does with North Korea

BrianWard
BrianWard

Whoa! Bush administration invaded Iraq, not Obama. That us a MAJOR error. What else is grossly inaccurate?

carolerae
carolerae

Obama Admin. DID NOT invade Iraq.  THE BUSH/CHENEY ADMIN. INVADED IRAQ. 

wildcatter
wildcatter

1)  The invasion and removal of Saddam was under the shrub, NOT OBAMA

2) The only thing the US actually did in the overthrow of Gadaffi was help enforce a UN authorized no-fly zone.

Other than not getting the basic premises right I am sure this author is truly an expert that even knows what he is talking about

ACraigs
ACraigs

Wow.  I am shocked by all the vitriol posted in response to this article.  IMO, Mr. Baer is one of the most insightful American journalists regarding geopolitics.  Furthermore, in their silly attempts to protect President 'walk on water' Obama, they try to smear the reputation of Mr. Baer who has performed extraordinary service to the United States.

By my read, this article is a spot-on assessment.  Kim Jung Un is simply the inheritor of his family's business. They want us out, and probably fear for the continuation of their enterprise. The trouble with so much of US foreign policy is that we wear our ideals on our shoulders instead of looking at the best next move to play.  We wave ideals like flags and the rest of the world plays chess. This is not unique to President Obama.  Just about every American President, George Bush included, acts this way.  It's deeply inbred into our culture and our psyches.

The current American response to North Korea needs some serious recalibration, not because we are wrong in our principles, but because it simply is not working.  I am not sure that what Mr. Baer proposes is the right answer, but I am damned sure that what we are doing now is the wrong response.

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@jimmy6p 

You do that and the North will still demolish Seoul before falling if not occupying it... they can easily occupy the South if not for US weapons.

kellerjosef260
kellerjosef260

@GeraldO'Hare   Combat veteran under 70  , of course we got them at all ages, they had their tours in Ogaden Africa . They have seen killing and the "to be killed" .  The SK have been in South Vietnam,seen combat.

Comes to think of it, who can tell, if the NK has not been in North Vietnam with the Viet-mins?

kellerjosef260
kellerjosef260

@mannsj   exactly  ,Inspections are due; in NK its 2 nuclear  centers  and about 12 to 14 goulags where they reportedly torture inmates for 3 generations,political prisoners.Born ingulag raised/brainwashed in the gulag, they could be dangerious and  impossible to  liberate, they would oppose a liberation or they are indictrinated to kill themselves in case  the gulag gates are opened and anybody ever says they are free,Un human rights  trio will give initial report in SEP and final in MAR , not based on actual inspections, no , only on de-briefing 89 or so defectors/escapees  ... who also could be  only sent out agents with this particular mission.The mission to get debriefed. BTW  Mr Shin is a real escapee , i have  done plenty research about him. 

cslap65
cslap65

@MofromRo yeah and got rid of one dorito munching madman but i bet you have a picture of stalin on your ceiling now dont u???

cslap65
cslap65

@NickyGrahams1 i hope they arent paying you for your spelling either or else theyre going belly up baby...

kellerjosef260
kellerjosef260

@ReaderwithaBadge  Baer, can i see your credentials ,your pay stub  maybe you have never even been near CIA   or  you have beed dreaming of being in CIA.

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

@JoeyPaggi 

Tell the Kurds Saddam didnt gas them with CHEMICAL WEAPONS! - Sarin and VX you dolt

Doesnt anybody think it is a bit odd Saddam didnt comply with WMD checks but turned out to have none?

cslap65
cslap65

@JustinBaker finally some sanity and i thought i was the only one left surrounded by libotards...

vanna.smythies
vanna.smythies

@BrianWard You may be interested in my paper (John Smythies) that touches on this topic recently published in the Journal of the Knowledge Economy entitled "The Road to Hell."

J Knowl Econ DOI 10.1007/s13132-013-0152-9 

cslap65
cslap65

@Changes_Long yeah so the big question is why would you want to waste your valuable life visiting a sh.t hole??? answer you are a libotard...

ReaderwithaBadge
ReaderwithaBadge

@ACraigs Its hard to qualify as insightful if you make an error as glaring as saying Hoover was in the White House for VJ Day.

kjeroh
kjeroh

@ACraigs Mr. Baer's credibility disappears when he says "President 'walk on water" Obama invaded Iraq. His other assessments, whatever his history, are just based on nothing. There's no attempt to protect President Obama, but rather to simply point out that this is an absolutely horribly researched opinion piece, your own attempts to smear the president and save Mr.. Baer don't stand up.

wildcatter
wildcatter

@ACraigs Very hard to accept as "Spot On" the musings of an expert that doesn't even get his basic facts correct.

GeraldO'Hare
GeraldO'Hare

The NK have no experience outside of NK. Yes the SK troops were in Vietnam but NO Northern Troops. You simply do not know what you are talking about. The Koreans do not look anything like the Vietnamese.

WilliamBarnes
WilliamBarnes

@cslap65 @oldwhiteguy I guess he feels the 'not so dusty' weight of all these decades of the US being the self-proclaimed 'world police' and hopes that one day the world (and ourselves) will wake up and behave in a responsible manner (not so egoistic) and act like we're in the 21st century with peace and harmony, co-operation and well-being as our goals instead of acting out the middle ages 'game of thrones'. Oh well...... someday in the distant future, I guess, if the human race (or part of it) survives to re-invent the wheel.

kellerjosef260
kellerjosef260

@Hadrewsky @JoeyPaggi he complied , then he refused , then he  complied  and restricted access, then he changes back and forth, so many times, that they became convinced, he must be lying, and on the next refusal, they concluded he must have nukes. If they would have been smarter ( Condalisa Rice & co) they would simply pose this ultimatum:  We inspect anywhere anytime  or else we invade.

kellerjosef260
kellerjosef260

@kjeroh @ACraigs Baer is not a competent expert , he even is a nuclear appeaser .Kim and XI ,both are just playing us.That's all. Xi's decision ,may be top secret ,but i just can figure this, is this, have a buffer zone,20 million  peasants occupying it, hungry ,uneducated ,brainwashed,appearing dangerious to the WEST at all times. Do not forget STalin started this war with false flag soviet pilots,Mao won the armistice,and Putin may take his shot on this too, he may  designate/assign KIM as his protregee,like he did with ASSAD.

ACraigs
ACraigs

@kjeroh @ACraigs  I am glad you posted this, because it made me re-read the article and recognize the confusion that seems to have everybody in a snit about this article.  It is indeed confusing.  What Mr. Baer means is that had Gaddafi held onto his nuclear potential, we (Mr. Obama) would not have toppled the odious Libyan regime, with the prior lesson being that had Saddam held out, and actually built a nuclear arsenal, nobody (even Mr. Bush) would have dared invade.

I agree with you that this is poorly worded for an opening paragraph and leads to significant potential for misinterpretation.  That said, it does not change the main points of the article that our policies are not producing the results we want and that we have proven that cooperation with the US is not always in the best interest of a despot like Gaddafi, Saddam, Kim Jung Un, or even the leaders of Tehran.


Thank you for the opportunity to respond.

kellerjosef260
kellerjosef260

@kjeroh @ACraigs slant drilling is a wrong expression. Physics basics , if you set up multiple liquid communicating ( underbridged with pipes connected to one-an-other) capacity bowls,all levels will be equal at all times  no matter which bowl experiences a filling  or which bowl  experienced a pump-out.

So geographically in Kuwait  and same  underground basin  located in Iraq , Iraq can suck out and/or drain kuwaity oil and sell it. And visa versa , kuwait can suck out  iraqi oil and sell it.

They failed to exlain all this in the 90-ties.No Drill pumphose has physically ever transgressed into kuwait  and visa versa into  iraq. Noone can built a deep separating wall along the geographical borderline, to keep the oil selling books of  both nations straight and separated.




kjeroh
kjeroh

@ACraigs @kjeroh My apologies, because I did want to agree that US relationships with Arab/Muslim states have been inconsistent at best. It gives me the opportunity to relate events leading up to the first Gulf War. As everyone knows, the US induced Iraq to invade Iran. Ayatollah Khomeni had been calling for Shi'ites in southern Iraq to rise up against the secular government of Saddam Hussein. There had been artillery duels between the two countries. The Gulf Kingdoms were also nervous about Khomeni. Although many didn't trust the non-Arab Iranians (Persians, not Arabs) but they all had sizable Shi'ite minorities who were not treated well. Khomeni wanted to export his revolution throughout the Gulf. 

  However, Hussein was nervous about Iran because its army was considerably larger than his own. Iran's army, supplied by the US under the Shah of Iran, on paper, was much better trained and equipped. The US gave Iraq intelligence assuring him that Iran's equipment had not been maintained and had fallen into disrepair. Saddam Hussein's highly mobile armored force would be able to make short work of Iran. Given financial assurances from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, et al, Iraq launched its war against Iran. The bloody stalemate is history.

  In the years that followed, repayments to Iraq were slowed and instead his oil exports were increased by OPEC. However, Kuwait suddenly became intransigent and began blocking Iraq's request for ever higher export approvals. Why? Because Kuwait had been slant drilling the Ramallah oil fields it shared with Iraq. (At the time I was financial reporter for the Innerline Financial Newswire. OPEC's meetings were a major event. OPEC members had no problems railing against Kuwait's actions. It was a tiny nation with big say so because of its huge oil reserves.)


  Finally, Iraq had had enough. It was having problems with its war debts. It had committed itself to taking care of its war veterans, also. It began making noise about Kuwait and the fact it had been a province of Iraq until European mapmakers gave them independence. After yet another veto to increase its exports and refusal to resume paying its war debts, Iraq made a non-veiled threat to achieve its ends by other means. The Saudi oil minister openly said that Kuwait had made its own troubles. Iraq asked the US if they would cause any trouble and the ambassador to Kuwait said the US would not get involved in border disputes in the Gulf. Hussein felt he had full approval to punish Kuwait militarily.

  However, what everyone expected was that Iraq would take the entire Ramallah oil fields and then negotiate extremely attractive terms. When he took Kuwait City, alarm bells went off. It had happened so quickly and easily and now Hussein was in a position to extract terms from Saudi Arabia, as well. Saddam Hussein, like Panama's Noriega was no longer taking orders. Neither would be tolerated.

  Saddam Hussein, when threatened if he didn't leave Kuwait, thought he had been double crossed. However, if he just withdrew when commanded to do so by western powers, he would lose face. He was also worried those pesky southern Shi'ites might take it as a sign of weakness. He felt he had to stay. He also thought if he could get the coalition in a ground war, he could make it bloody enough to still extract something favorable. The rest is history.

  I could remind people that the US also encouraged those Shi'ites to rebel, then allowed Iraq to use its helicopter gunships to put down the rebellion. Our back and forth policies has cost three Pakistani leaders to be knocked out of power by backing US interests over their citizens' desires. They started a hammer and anvil strategy when Petraeus launched his Afghanistan surge (under President Obama) and then neglected to tell the Pakistanis they ended their part of the strategy. We encourage Arab Spring in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and then stand by while Bahrain ruthlessly puts down its own uprising. The dissatisfied in the other Gulf states got the message.

kjeroh
kjeroh

@ACraigs@kjeroh"If Saddam had held onto his weapons of mass destruction–and lots of them–the Obama Administration would have had second thoughts about invading his country"

There's little way to interpret this. And again: Saddam Hussein had significant chemical and biological weapons during the first Gulf War.  There was concern he could use them against the coalition, and again, when he started sending SCUDs against Israel. However, Hussein did not dare because he knew all stops would be taken off and he would be utterly and completely destroyed.

 There's a major misunderstanding regarding a nuclear weapons program. Obtaining the technology to produce enough weapons grade material is extremely expensive and even more so when sanctions are imposed to prevent it from happening. Then weaponizing and producing a viable delivery system. Iran has been at it for years and remains years away from having enough material to PRODUCE a weapon. Just because Iraq or Libya had programs in their infancy does not mean at any time they would have had a weapon, let alone a delivery system that could threaten anyone other than a neighbor. Add the realization that using such a weapon would result in the complete and total destruction of their country is a major deterrent for those countries to even threaten its use. Gaddafi gave up nothing but an albatross. He could not afford a weapon. By saying he would give up the program brought money into his country. Possession of a weapon would have done nothing to stop EUROPEAN powers from their strategic bombing, administered by US technology. His delivery system would not be reliable and anti-missile technology was enough to raise the possibility it would be destroyed before it hit anything.

In fact, if there were a popular uprising in North Korea which would have to include a significant part of its military , I'm not so sure the US wouldn't use its ability to "secure" that North Korea's weapons could not be used. The only deterrent regarding North Korea's nuclear arsenal is no one is sure if Sung-un is insane enough to actually use a weapon, or if this is just ratcheted rhetoric leading up to a spectacular test launch to celebrate the original Kim Il Sung's April 15 birthday.


Read more: http://world.time.com/2013/04/05/viewpoint-north-koreas-gaddafi-nightmare/#ixzz2PnLdMXGw