The growing threat to the world from North Korea with its nuclear and missile programs is a huge cause for concern. But an even bigger cause for concern would be the “chaotic collapse or overthrow” of the Kim Jong-un regime.
As much as one would like to see Kim Jong-un and his henchmen get what’s coming to them, the aftermath could be catastrophic for the world.
As Bloomberg columnist Eli Lake explains:
Let’s be honest. The world would be a better place if a revolutionary tribunal in the near future sent North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and his henchmen to the gallows. Kim’s subjects are so malnourished that North Koreans are notably shorter than their South Korean cousins. The state’s gulags are so large, you can see them from space. Survivors of those camps have testified that fellow prisoners withered away from starvation.
The U.N. high commissioner for human rights has acknowledged the horror. A 2014 report from that office says that inside of North Korea “crimes against humanity” have been committed as a result of the state’s policy. These include “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”
Crimes against humanity generally cost a regime its legitimacy, if not its sovereignty. And yet most national security professionals would regard the collapse of the North Korean slave state as a calamity. The reason for this is simple: all the nuclear weapons and material. A 2015 study from the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies estimated North Korea possessed 10 to 16 nuclear weapons, and will possess 20 to 100 such weapons by 2020. This says nothing of the highly enriched nuclear fuel the state has produced or the mobile rockets and longer-range missiles to launch the warheads.
Trying to secure all this after a chaotic collapse or overthrow of the Kim regime would be a nightmare. General Raymond Thomas, who heads U.S. Special Operations Command, called a regime collapse in North Korea a “worst case scenario,” at a conference hosted last week by the Institute for the Study of War. “In the event of the implosion of the region, we’d have the loose nuke dilemma on an industrial scale,” the general said, describing it as a “vertical track meet between the Chinese and the South Koreans in terms of securing the nukes.”
When it comes to North Korea, it looks like the United States and its allies are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.