Much has been written about Li'l Kim in recent weeks as the world takes differing views on the seriousness of the threats coming out of North Korea.
He has certainly generated a lot of media attention, but as a good friend pointed out yesterday he must be a bit "miffed" about the death of Baroness Thatcher - seeing as how she has now taken pride of place in the media headlines.
What seems clear to most observers is that this recent spate of rhetoric is, as usual, less of a genuine threat. But the big difference this time is that no one really knows whose hand is hovering over the button marked "war".
Previous history might suggest that such threats were designed more to gain some sort of "pay-off", thereby enabling the country to stagger along from one famine to another. After all, no one really takes seriously the notion that North Korea has an armoury sufficient to pose a significant threat to the world at large, or over a sustained period of time. So, are the threats designed to make South Korea very uncomfortable? Sure. And China and probably Japan too and definitely the US. But, again, in general, troop movements in the North have not given rise to concerns that the rhetoric is likely to be supported by action.
To this unlearned observer there seems to be a power struggle going on behind the scenes. As I wrote a little over two years ago, in predicting the death of Kim senior, I suggested that Li'l Kim would fall foul of the generals and be ousted in a power struggle. He was young, untested, appeared to be uneducated and would not be able to stand up to a concerted effort by the generals to remove him.
Then, in a surprise to me anyway, Kim seemed to be gaining the upper hand when he purged his mentor, Ri Yong-ho, and sacked him from all his posts - including significantly, his position as Head of the Army. This happened some 9 months ago. But it now seems that this did not perhaps lead to the army heads into becoming more compliant, and heeding Kim's every word. And this, I believe, is why we are where are now. The Generals are revolting!! (You can take that comment how you like!)
Kim is having to pump up the stakes, create front page news, make people nervous and demonstrate through Kim-controlled media that he is a no nonsense leader, and he is focused on the "enemy" outside his borders. By doing that he reduces the internal tensions that seem to exist, as anyone who protests will be seen as unpatriotic.
But this is turning into a high stakes game of brinksmanship. But it is being played by a potentially impetuous juvenile whose finger may just slip and hit the wrong button! After all, where does he go from here? He has warned foreigners to leave South Korea because "he doesn't want foreigners to be harmed". That suggests he is prepared to bomb, or otherwise harm the ONLY country that could possibly help North Korea reach some sort of economic model for growth. Where's the logic in that? Of course, not a lot of what is happening is, in fact, logical.
He may test a nuclear weapon, but testing does not of itself achieve the goals established by the rhetoric. Thus his only last resort, in a power struggle where he has publicly set out his intentions, is to actually do something. If he fails - the Generals win, and I have no idea what that means for the country. Or there is a very high profile diplomatic solution, engineered probably by China which enables Kim to remove his hand from over the button without losing face. But that seems to be a long shot.
I am hopeful that it will all come to nothing, once again, but I am more nervous this time about the boy and the button!!