May 29th, 2009
03:00 PM ET

Know your North Korean nukes

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/05/26/nkorea.test/art.kimfinger.jpg caption="North Korean leader Kim Jong-II is suspected to have suffered a stroke last August."]

Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

My success in navigating the vagaries of foreign cultures is spotty at best, because while I speak no language other than English fluently, I try them all with unhinged enthusiasm. So I have dazzled a French waiter by informing him “Your pajamas are smashing.” I have told a Spanish sales clerk, “No, no! I need to see the lawnmower canoe.” And I wonder if that Albanian has yet realized that I had no intention of buying his rabbits.

Still, even as the latest North Korean nuclear bomb test is reverberating around the globe, I am starting to grasp the logic of their game. Or rather, I should say, by talking to smart foreign affairs analysts and reading an awful lot of obscure reports, I am beginning to get the gist of the overall situation.

So my loyal readers (or accidental readers, if that happens to be the case,) here is Tom’s Quick Guide to Understanding North Korean Nukes.

Question: Didn’t Kim Jong Il, (the president of North Korea, who is often mistaken for the fifth Teletubbie) blow up a big part of a nuclear plant last year as a sign of his willingness to disarm? Answer: Yes. But it wasn’t that big. A cooling tower. The rest of the facility seems marvelously intact and the Pentagon has detected signs of renewed activity.

Question: Are North Korea’s nukes any good? Answer: Even a poorly made nuke is not exactly a firecracker. So far Kim & Company have achieved about the explosive power that we had in World War II; which, as Japan can sadly tell you, was horrifying.

Question: What does Mr. Kim stand to gain by infuriating the world this way? For starters, better nuclear weapons. And every time he improves his nuclear arsenal, he also raises the stakes with all the countries that want him to give up his nukes. He can force them to trade even more food, economic assistance, and other types of aid to his struggling country.

Question: Isn’t that like nuclear blackmail? Answer: Yes. Totally. Way.

Question: Wait, North Korea has nukes!? Answer: Yes. Please try to keep up.

Question: Is Kim Jong Il crazy? Answer: Well, nobody knows, and that’s a serious problem, all kidding aside.

It is easy for us to dismiss his bluster and declarations of war as the ramblings of a paranoid and politically weakened tyrant. But less than three years ago he tested his first nuclear bomb, and despite all the international threats, sanctions, and efforts to shut his nuclear program down, he is still testing weapons. Maybe he is crazy like a North Korean fox.

Filed under: 360° Radar • North Korea • Tom Foreman
soundoff (One Response)
  1. arnolfo santoro

    Question is, now that he has it, what is he going to do with it. Kim Jong doesn't seem rational. By all accounts he has a narcissistic personality. If he's really convinced he is some kind of deity , his failing health must be a real smack in the face which makes me concerned that maybe he will do something extreme on his inevitable way out.

    Just on the other side of the globe, a nuclear wielding Pakistan is fighting off the extremists Taliban from within their own county and Iran pushes to gain their own nukes.

    These are the times we really need our best thinkers and diplomats at the helm of humanity to steer us all clear of global catastrophes. But I worry we are not far enough evolved from the caves to make it past our historical passion for war.

    The next few years are really going to be scary.


    May 29, 2009 at 5:30 pm |