The Kim Jong-nam assassination was meant to terrorize, not just eliminate

As the reports suggest that the Trump administration is about to put Pyongyang back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism — from which it should never have been removed to begin with — I’m seeing some strained arguments in opposition.


[A lecturer at PUST, in case that’s relevant to you.]

Nonsense. If you just want to eliminate a rival, you “fix” his brakes and arrange a car not-accident. Or, in Kim Jong-un’s case, you take advantage of his well-known reputation as a playboy and recruit a femme fatale to lure him to a hotel room and jab him with a needle. You make it look like an overdose, a botched robbery, or a heart attack. You sure as hell don’t do it with VX nerve agent in a crowded airport terminal using multiple people who can be traced back to your embassy.

Pyongyang knows how to do a plausibly deniable assassination. In Kim Jong-nam’s case, it chose a plan so gruesome, so public, so needlessly elaborate, and so implausibly deniable that it reads like a James Bond parody. Why do that? To terrorize us, South Korea, and any past or future defectors: (1) we have WMDs, (2) we aren’t afraid to use them, (3) we don’t care about civilian casualties, and (4) if you criticize us, you will never be safe, no matter where you are and no matter how long it takes us to find you.

3 Comments

  1. Joshua, do you have any thoughts about the notion of a North Korean government-in-exile? Just for the heck of it, I would throw out the names Thae Yong-ho or Kim Han-sol as its leader, anglophones both, though I doubt either would be interested in the job. Recognized by nations the world over as a civilized representative of the interests of the NK people (if not a legitimate sovereign government), it would serve as a propaganda tool to undermine KJU from within NK (imagine mini SD cards containing video of Thae or Han-sol at “state” dinners and conferences with world leaders). Perhaps the catalyst needed by a disgruntled NK elite (and general population) is an alternative to KJU, a beacon of hope, like DJT has been to his base. It would give a human face and an identity that dissidents, within and outside of NK, could rally around.




    0



    0
  2. Could that government (1) unify NK emigres, (2) interact meaningfully with the NK people, (3) represent or provide for the NK people, or (4) do anything that the ROK government could or would not do? Until the answer to those questions is “yes,” it’s not clear why that would be a helpful step.




    0



    0