On Tuesday, I wrote about the unlikelihood that North Korea poses a serious nuclear threat to the world (see “Bluster and Bravado,” which ran in this space on June 27).
The fact of the matter is that, if Kim Jong-un were to launch a nuclear assault, he would be heavily outgunned and outnumbered by the rest of the world, leading not only to a bruising political defeat but also a moral one for the egocentric North Korean dictator (which, in turn, could lead to his downfall in Pyongyang).
Quite simply, Kim does not have the physical hardware and technological savvy to subdue the West in a nuclear arena.
Don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that North Korea’s nuclear arsenals should be taken lightly.
But North Korea’s real threat to modern civilization and global security may be far less complicated – and far more sinister – than Pyongyang’s growing heap of nuclear warheads.
It is in the realm of chemical and cyber warfare that Pyongyang is really waging war with the West.
And the VX nerve agent that Kim used to kill his half-brother in Malaysia last February and the WannaCry malware that he loosed on the global internet in May are clear evidence that these are battlefields where he is not shy to fire the first shot.
Kim’s nuclear weapons may be a showy furbelow that he would never dare to use, but he has no such qualms about mobilizing his chemical and cyber caches.
And while the West may be prepared to deter Kim’s potential nuclear assaults, the international community is, for the most part, at a loss to secure itself against his stealth chemical and cyber onslaughts.
There is also the threat of North Korea using biological weapons, harnessing lethal pathogens or doomsday bugs to attack the West.
Kim has an entire nation of scientific lackeys and cyber technicians at his disposal to supply his frontlines with the latest weapons in these furtive theaters of war.
And, unlike with the launching of a nuclear warhead, the origins of cyber, chemical or biological weaponry is not always easy to trace, which means that Kim can always hide behind claims of non-culpability (as he has in the case of his half-brother’s death and the WannaCry attack).
Kim may be crazy, but he is not stupid, and when it comes to bullying the civilized world, he is capable and willing to use any weapons – no matter how deplorable and reprehensible – he has at his disposal.
Indeed, the West needs to keep an eye on Kim’s overt nuclear ambitions, but it must not overlook his more ominous covert threats against international security.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org