Is Kim Jong Un in control?
April 5th, 2013
10:41 AM ET

Is Kim Jong Un in control?

By Jason Miks

South Korean media has reported today that two medium-range missiles have been loaded onto mobile launchers along North Korea’s east coast, and that they are ready to be launched. The report comes at the end of another tense weak on the Korean Peninsula that has seen an announcement by the U.S. that it is sending missile defenses to Guam and a North Korean statement that its army has final approval for nuclear strikes against the United States.

In a Situation Room special, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer spoke with Fareed Zakaria to get his take on North Korea’s rhetoric, how serious the latest threats are, and China’s potential role in easing tensions.

Is it time to send some sort of diplomatic envoy to Pyongyang on behalf of the president of the United States?

Well, the Bush administration actually did try diplomacy. They signed two agreements with the North Koreans. Plenty of people did.  The problem is that they cheat on them. They've cheated on every one of these.

There's only one country with whom diplomacy would work with North Korea, and that's China. The Chinese make up by some estimates 50 percent of North Korea's food, and about 80 percent of its fuel. There are people in China who literally opened the taps and allowed North Korea to survive.

The problem is the Chinese have never thought that they could put the real pressure on the North Koreans without danger of the regime collapsing. So as for the Chinese, they worry about all this stuff. They don't like this unpredictability of this regime. But they don't want to see a North Korean collapse.

What would that mean? It would mean that millions of refugees would pour into China. But, more importantly, it means almost inevitably the unification of the Koreas, North and South, in the kind of East German/West German style but on South Korean terms. So, here's what you would have on China's border – a very large Korea, with Seoul as its capital, with about 30,000 American troops, a treaty alliance with the United States and nuclear weapons.

The fear is that there could be a miscalculation – even though no one thinks North Korea is suicidal, that they know they would be destroyed if they were to do something drastic. But if there were an incident, and the new government in South Korea responded, who knows what would happen?

That's exactly right. The problem is, imagine that one of these missiles is launched, the KN-08 missiles. They don't have nuclear warheads small enough to put on them, so they would be high explosive. But they launch it into the sky. We have destroyers that have Aegis phased array radars, track them, we fire our own missile, the SM-3, to intercept and destroy it.

Then, the North Koreans feel that they have lost face. They have to do something. They start attacking South Korean patrol boats.

You see, that's the danger. Nobody wants this to happen.

When I heard that Dennis Rodman was going, I couldn't believe it. I don't know about you, but you can't make this kind of stuff up.

You can't make it up. They reportedly wanted Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan, perhaps wisely, decided not to be part of it.

He declined.

You know what partly this tells you, to add to the complexity of this story, is this 29-year-old boy, Kim Jong Un, is probably not running national security strategy. The guy is a few months in the job. There's a military dictatorship. He's fully in control of basketball policy for North Korea. But national security policy's probably being controlled by very senior generals.

He is the son, though, of Kim Jong Il, the grandson of founder of North Korea, so the power he has potentially is enormous.

Enormous, and it unifies the country, and it keeps the regime intact. But probably behind the scenes there are people actually pulling the strings, which makes it more complicated, because there are probably multiple centers of power here.

Where do you see this going, bottom line?

Bottom line, I think they will be deterred. I think they're trying to get attention. They're trying to get concessions. The Obama administration is probably not going to do it. So we'll probably ride this out. But as you said at the start, there have been miscalculations here.

For more of Fareed's take on North Korea, read his Washington Post column here.

Post by:
Topics: North Korea

« Previous entry
soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Pete

    Un is a legend in his own delushional mind..Nothing worse than a maniacal shrimp of a dictator wanting recognision through war to create a future place for him next to his family of sadistic dictators as well..He thinks the bully pulpit will get sanctions removed but it only tightens the ones being enforced and with his threats it results just in more sanctions his people have to endure..Remember in his mountain palace over looking his country he doesn't feel pain,hunger because he's far removed from what is seen not feeling,seeing its adverse effects on his citizens not being able to peer through the clouds that control his judgement...

    April 5, 2013 at 11:09 am | Reply
  2. Ric

    The US and the rest of the world really have no worries about North Korean missiles because everyone knows that North Korean missiles have a stamp on each one that reads: “ACME Rockets – fully endorsed by Wile E. Coyote, Super Nuclear Genius.”

    April 5, 2013 at 11:33 am | Reply
    • Andersen

      "no worries about North Korean missiles?!" – you should not be serious about this one. We are very concerned about what happens in Koreas, and about USA responses. USA seem to be less and less in control about basic international understandings.

      April 8, 2013 at 6:27 am | Reply
  3. Donald Yipshun Hsu

    There is only one assurance for peace in north-east Asia and it could only be achieved by signing the1953 Armistice into a peace treaty.

    April 5, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Reply
  4. JAL

    War is good for nothing.

    April 5, 2013 at 7:03 pm | Reply
  5. rightospeak

    8 responses and I can only read 3- why is that ? Other responses were deleted?
    Why endless warmongering and not like Donald Hsu suggested to get peace by signing the 1953 Armistice ??? Why must we be in endless wars ?
    Let us seek peace and it will come. The rich will not get richer, but at least it may be quiet for a change.
    Personally , in view of our bankrupcy , we have no business in occupying South Korea when we are borrowing money at interest from Communist China. We gave the Communists our capital, our technology and our jobs to make them and Wall Street richer while our industries were decimated and left vast masses of unemployed. Under Globalism Gays and stray animals have more rights than the unemployed-how sad for the future of our country.

    April 5, 2013 at 7:16 pm | Reply
    • Pete

      @rightospeak,I have a problem with your response because if it weren't for Americas power to print vast amounts of money to pay down its debts created by republicans in power from Hoover to Bush we would have been bankrupted a long time ago...Hoover and his Great Depression,Reagan,Nixon stealing from the SocialSecurity coffers to balance the Federal budgets,ICBM missile buildings in the cold war and Bushs, others putting many a useless war on the countrys credit card..You'd better go back and read up on our historys economy bud because if it weren't for us printing money in bulk 24/7 like I said we'd be in hock to these Chinese and others long before this I can tell yah..And remember we just paid off our debts for WWI and that war was over a hundred years ago and countries like Britain and others still owe us for our help from WWI,WWII as well,just read up like someone else said reading is fundamental,just do it!!

      April 6, 2013 at 9:53 am | Reply
      • Bloodnut the Flatulant

        Your not a Democrat, are you?

        April 10, 2013 at 11:50 am |
      • Veritas

        You may want to check your history there, World War 1 hadn't even commenced until July 28, 1914

        April 10, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
      • Pete

        @Veritas,excuse me I'm not perfect on dates but that's from memory not running to Google like most of you to spot check..And yes I'm democrate and damn proud of it and the way things are going if you're republican you'd think twice about staying in that racist,ignorent party if you are one..And go back and spot check who started wars ,not democrates because they've served in many a military conflict more than 70% not the warmongering armchair general republicans who advocate but run from war it self having only 30% ever serving in any military capacity in both houses..And check out your hero in McCain with republicans honoring him yesterday,the Saigon Songbird still has ignorent,politically inept followers still ,doesn't he the traitor!!!

        April 12, 2013 at 9:19 am |
  6. patrickthegreat1

    "The report comes at the end of another tense weak on the Korean Peninsula that has seen an announcement by the U.S. that it is sending missile defenses to Guam and a North Korean statement that its army has final approval for nuclear strikes against the United States."

    I think you meant "week", not "weak". Usage, use it.

    April 6, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Reply
  7. j. von hettlingen

    The young, untested Kim simply doesn't have the same touch or strategic grasp as his predecessors and could provoke a conflict that no-one wants. It's unclear who he has in his inner circle. Does he still have his uncle, Jang Sung-taek, husband of his aunt, Kim Kyong-hui as advisor? Jang has been seen as moderate and rational.

    April 6, 2013 at 6:52 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      During the Cold War, Kim's grandfather conducted a diplomacy by playing China off against the Soviet Union to extract maximum assistance from its squabbling Communist backers. In the 1990s his father tried to master a different strategy, a survival game by using threats and limited military action to divide its neighbours and enemies and to extract concessions from them.

      April 6, 2013 at 6:53 pm | Reply
  8. johnnyvistar

    He and his father were never in control. A group of old generals are holding the whip. Even Kim Jong Il had to postrate himself before these self indulging and corrupt NK generals.

    The NK general have vast wealth and business interests. Their famiies are living in great opulence, having expensive properties overseas – living in big houses thousands of kilometers away from NK. Many of their grandchildren have never even set foot on their own country. A good example was KJU 's elder brother – who actually lived in Beijing. He had recently predicted the collapse of NK Government soon, and called his younger brother KJU a dictator.

    April 7, 2013 at 12:04 am | Reply
    • johnnyvistar

      Which really begs the question how did Kim Jong Il really died?

      I find it too convenient to be told officially that he collapsed from a heart attack, inside a secluded and a small confined place of his hghly guarded personal train.

      April 7, 2013 at 12:16 am | Reply
  9. Nike

    The secret command for attack against USA, will not come from North Koreans, but from South Korean intelligence networks. This is no win situation for USA, as long as USA does not limit businesses and imports of South Korean companies.

    April 7, 2013 at 5:47 am | Reply
  10. Pro-active

    Of course not. However, the Generals do consult with him so he is in the know of what they are planning and up to because they need his endorsement as the professed leader. Bottom-line is same old circus – cry wolf, threaten attack and manipulate the International Community to get food, supplies, replenish and perhaps, the tough sanctions lifted so there is no upheaval and to maintain the status-quo.

    April 7, 2013 at 8:44 am | Reply
  11. johnnyvistar

    Note in that picture – a bunch of very short and obviously undernourished North Korean soldiers. Average height is said to be just 5 ft. And these are supposed to be the Elitist guards.

    It would be like SK men soldiers fighting NK little boyscouts.

    April 7, 2013 at 8:52 am | Reply
  12. Jessica McGwin

    While I agree that our intelligence community is the greatest in the world and I am well just an American. I would implore a widened eye. I have a feeling that this leader in North Korea knows how to draw power from resources. When it comes to WMD's to be realistic we do not have a true location on all of them. Thanks Russia anyway, this new test ready for launch has all eyes so we must ask our selves what does he know that we do not. Often times when I loose something I find it in the last place I look. Where is the last place we would look?

    April 10, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Reply
  13. realfuture2010

    Obama needs to visit China before it is too late

    April 10, 2013 at 8:29 pm | Reply
  14. nguyenaz12

    I am from Vietnam,,, I been in a Vietnam war,, I am just a 5 year old boy,, I lost my older sister during the invasion of N. Vietnam,,, the bomb drop infront of my house,, killed my sister,,, it been 38 years,,, very sad when I think of it,, I kept thinking for the people Koreas,, hopefully they don't have to go through what I been through,,,

    April 11, 2013 at 2:50 am | Reply
  15. machinemommy

    He is in control as far as figureheads can. he moves from military to black suits and administration as we see it in China or the West. Much of it will depend on his will to resolve the situation with the South. We have the feeling his administration needs funding fast and he has only a little chance to pull North Korea out of the military build up. The corruption has a big hold on the system where the military always came first. The demands he makes are not realistic but it is up to the rest of the World to step over that and give the support for the people. We the UN are big enough.

    April 19, 2013 at 7:10 am | Reply
  16. machinemommy

    Kim Jung Un inherited this and his honor is at stake.

    April 19, 2013 at 7:12 am | Reply

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

« Previous entry