North Korea defector: Kim Jong-un ready to use the nuclear option -- literally

Mitch McConnell may think he has a nuclear option, but Kim Jong-un has the real thing — and a high-ranking defector from North Korea says he’s itching to use it. Thae Yong Ho, a former deputy ambassador to the UK, warns that the US and its allies had better prepare themselves for a nuclear exchange on the Korean peninsula. The only solution, Thae tells NBC News, is regime change:

According to Thae, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is “desperate in maintaining his rule by relying on his [development of] nuclear weapons and ICBM.” He was using an acronym for intercontinental ballistic missiles — a long range rocket that in theory would be capable of hitting the U.S.

“Once he sees that there is any kind of sign of a tank or an imminent threat from America, then he would use his nuclear weapons with ICBM,” he added in an exclusive interview on Sunday. …

“If Kim Jong Un has nuclear weapons and ICBMs, he can do anything,” he said. “So, I think the world should be ready to deal with this kind of person.”

He added that “Kim Jong Un is a man who can do anything beyond the normal imagination” and that “the final and the real solution to the North Korean nuclear issue is to eliminate Kim Jong Un from the post.”

Well, that’s easier said than done. Thae suggests that defectors and exiles should band together to depose the Kim regime, but Jong-un gave a rather pointed and pre-emptive demonstration in February about that strategy by assassinating his brother in an international airport with VX nerve agent. While that underscores Thae’s point about Kim’s recklessness, it also reminds those dissidents living in exile think twice about organizing overtly for a coup in Pyongyang.

The best and safest solution would be to have China press a few buttons of its own to encourage the North Korean military to depose Kim on their own, and to moderate its Stalinist governance. China has had decades to do so and to defuse the situation on the Korean peninsula, but has done little except impose some economic sanctions. Donald Trump says he will make it clear to Chinese president Xi Jinping that the US will act if Beijing does not:

“Yes, we will talk about North Korea,” Trump told the newspaper for a story that appeared Sunday on its website. “And China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t. And if they do that will be very good for China, and if they don’t it won’t be good for anyone.”

Trump said trade was the incentive for China to work with the United States. Still, he said the United States could “totally” handle the situation in North Korea without China’s help.

Asked how he would tackle North Korea, Trump said: “I’m not going to tell you. You know, I am not the United States of the past where we tell you where we are going to hit in the Middle East.”

Perhaps Trump wants to try out the “crazy man” strategy with Beijing — convincing them that he will act dramatically and unilaterally, unless they act to change the situation first. At least that has the virtue of novelty, but it could also precipitate action from the Kim regime, too. The political crisis in South Korea invites that kind of provocation too, as Seoul is distracted with the impeachment of Park Geun-hye and may not react promptly to military action with the chain of command in flux. If Kim wants a war, he has no better time or opportunity for one, and he’s been using the “crazy man” strategy a lot longer than Trump or anyone else involved in this standoff. At some point, someone’s bluff is going to get called, and the presence of nuclear weapons makes this an all-in pot.

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