How Kim Jong-un's Nuclear Arsenal Could Lead Us To Peace

North Korea may now be too dangerous to be attacked. But that may force all to find a diplomatic solution.

Do you trust this man?
Do you trust this man?
Yann Rousseau


PARIS — As soon as North Korea's sixth nuclear test was announced on Sunday, the litany of condemnations against Kim Jong-un's umpteenth "provocation" started up yet again. But despite all the "strong condemnations," the world's most powerful countries will most likely prove incapable of forging a coherent response. The regime in Pyongyang, meanwhile, is convinced that it has finally attained the key to peace.

Any sanctions declared against North Korea over the coming weeks will end up hurting the population, but it won't make Kim Jong-un yield. If the young leader has taken the liberty of angering Beijing, its last true ally, annoying its Russian neighbor or taunting U.S. President Donald Trump, who has pledged to meet North Korean threats with "fire and fury," it's because he knows that the international community can no longer stop him.

After decades of efforts, the regime built by Kim Jong-un's grandfather is on the verge of acquiring nuclear power — the only thing that can guarantee the country's survival through deterrence. North Korea is now equipped with intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of hitting the U.S. or Japan. Soon, it will also have miniaturized nuclear warheads. With this kind of arsenal, North Korea will have to be taken seriously. We will have to retire any thoughts of an armed intervention as the resulting scenarios are unimaginable.

Even Trump won't risk a third world war.

The country may now be too dangerous to be attacked. The South Korean capital of Seoul and its 10 million inhabitants, as well as U.S. military bases are located just 60 kilometers from the border with North Korea. It would only take seven minutes for a Nodong missile to hit the center of Tokyo, killing tens of thousands of people. Although Trump said on Sunday that he hasn't ruled out the military option, even he probably won't risk a third world war — and his own allies and military advisors are urging him to abstain from any such action.

While the North Korean "victory" might be scary, it doesn't mean that the world has become more dangerous after the latest nuclear test. Instead, North Korea is likely to feel reassured by its nuclear deterrence capability and will no longer have any interest in continuing its provocations. Kim Jong-un knows that North Korea is certain to lose if it risks triggering an all-out war.

Despite the short-term friction, North Korea's nuclear arsenal could lead to an appeasement strategy in the long term. After years of tension, a new dialogue with Washington and Seoul might even become a possibility. A North Korea with nuclear deterrence capability might, strangely enough, help the region discover a new form of stability.

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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