Time to Address Kim Jong-un's erratic behavior
When you can conduct a targeted ‘hit’ against an individual with VX nerve agent using amateurs and leave no collateral damage in as crowded a place as an airport no closely-protected world political or military leader is safe. Kim Jong-un and his regime have crossed a ‘red line’ in using VX nerve agent against a civilian target in a foreign country.
On February 13th, North Korea assassinated Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-un using a weapon of mass destruction in the Kuala Lumpur airport in Malaysia. It was a ruthless and reckless act employing VX nerve agent to demonstrate that North Korea will stop at nothing to carry-out targeted killings abroad, even in the territory of their friends. North Korean defectors have charged that the North has tested chemical agents on political prisoners in the past. The use of VX in its recent assassination shows a degree of sophistication in that the North knows the exact amount needed just to kill one single person or it has a binary VX delivery device that protects the assassin during the attack from almost certain death, and allows for the escape of the assailant, and weapon. North Korea has reportedly used poison before for assassination including the execution of Kim Jong-un’s aunt. North Korean reportedly attempted to eliminate a North Korean defector, Park Sang-hak in 2011, and killed Choi Duk-kun, a South Korean diplomat stationed in the Russian city of Vladivostok in October 1996 using neostigmine bromide, that attacks the central nervous system. In the Park Sang-hak assassination attempt, the assassin was found armed with a pen-liked weapon that carried a needle dipped in neostigmine bromide. But this is the North’s first known use of a weapon of mass destruction to kill and opponent.
Other states have carried out targeted killings of opponents and this is not new. The West and Israel have carried out targeted killings of terrorist leaders, but have stuck to conventional weapons and special operations forces. The use of what are weapons of mass destruction to carry out assassinations appears to be an increasing. It is important to remember that in 1978, the Bulgarian secret service at the behest of the Soviet-era KGB used ricin, one of the world’s most toxic biological substances and a weapon of mass destruction, in an umbrella gun to deliver a pellet in a targeted killing of an exile Georgi Markov in London. The assailant has never been found. There may be reason to believe that the North Koreas are working on something similar, and again would likely conduct tests on political prisoners. We would be remiss not to point out that similarly, the Russian FSB stands accused of carrying out the assassination of ex-Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko, on British soil in 2006, with tea-laced with highly-radioactive Polonium-210, resulting in his slow death.
While not new, these assassinations raise significant questions about how the threshold to use weapons of mass destruction seems to be lessened in the minds of some political leaders. Kim Jong-un has clearly calculated that he can use weapons of mass destruction with a degree of immunity. By all accounts in the media, the two assassins that conducted the hit on Kim Jong-nam were amateurs, paid a little money, and have reportedly said that they thought they were part of a prank. If true, it is very worrisome given the erratic and vengeful nature of the North Korean regime and it follows logically, that the regime cannot be deterred. Sadly, if deterrence and defense are not good strategic options, then you are left with only one, attack.
Thus, the time has come, to address Kim Jong-un and his regime, and their erratic and dangerous behavior, whether they are of sound mind or not. They need to get the message loud, and clear, that their behavior will come with devastating consequences that threaten the survival of their regime, and they need to suffer hurtful loss.