After the paralysis we saw in the Security Council of the UN over Iraq three years ago, it’s nice to see that the United Nations can now finally agree on something: North Korea is up to no good. Moreover, the UN apparently believes that two nuclear tests are better than one; just this past Tuesday, reports confirmed the possibility of a second nuclear test (coming soon, to a news channel near you).
Like many of you, I am clueless as to why the seemingly insignificant and isolated North Korea is so intent on infuriating the rest of the world. Also, considering the fact that it is surrounded by some of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful countries (China, Japan, South Korea), the prospect of North Korea’s territorial expansion is quite a stretch. What could possibly be the result of nuclear proliferation, other than further isolation and suppression of the North Koreans?
In my search for some kind of context to this seemingly inexplicable behavior on behalf of North Korea, I find myself turning to a historical figure somewhat dear to me: Charles de Gaulle (although de Gaulle probably had the resources to hire a more competent barber). As leader of the French Resistance during WWII, de Gaulle was an ardent nationalist who, much like Jong Il today, was intent on securing a place for France on the world stage.
And yes, for de Gaulle, this also this meant procuring nuclear weapons. Now, if you know anything about the geopolitical situation of France, you’ll realize that there was never any overwhelming incentive for France to make this move. As a part of NATO, and surrounded by peace-loving democracies like itself, France was not exactly vulnerable to any threats to its security. Moreover, the timing of France’s nuclear test, in the mid-1960s, seemed contrary to its national policy. Aside from being a nationalist, De Gaulle was also a federalist who pushed for deeper unity among the European Community. At the time, Europe was in the midst of talks on a common policy to prevent nuclear proliferation. France’s sudden proclamation of “Voila, Europe. We have nukes,” looks very similar to North Korea’s recent defiance of the UN.
So now the question is: Why did de Gaulle do it? My short and sweet answer to that would be: because he could and because he felt like it. There was no reference to security, not even to nuclear energy ? la Ahmedinejad. Instead, there was the idea that when you thought of France you’d think of more than just Burgundy wine or Chanel. You’d think of power, you’d think of prestige.
In the same way, Kim Jong Il wants the world to look past his hairdo (although that’ll be difficult for me) and see the leader of a powerful nation, that, despite overwhelming isolation and a nonfunctional economy, has managed to possess one thing-if only one thing-in common with the world’s most powerful states: nuclear weapons. It’s a risky game, with dire consequences for his people, but nevertheless a game Jong-Il refuses not to play.
And while he refuses to sit out, maybe even he doesn’t know how hard he’s willing play.