NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. Today is Tuesday, March 27th. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.
Yesterday we learned that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un made a surprise visit to China.
It’s believed to be the first time he’s done that. Not just visiting China, but visiting anywhere outside North Korea.
Kim Jong-Un took the reins of power from his father Kim Jong-Il in 2011. This is another example of Kim surprising the world, something George Friedman says he’s prone to do.
EICHER: Friedman is founder of Stratfor, the world’s leading private intelligence firm. More recently, he founded the firm Geopolitical Futures.
Friedman has a global reputation for strategic forecasting. And he sat down with WORLD editor in chief Marvin Olasky to discuss U.S.-Korea relations.
Today we’re airing excerpts of that conversation as part of our occasional series: The Olasky Interview.
We’ll pick up on the conversation as Marvin asks Friedman for his general perspective on Kim Jong-Un.
GEORGE FRIEDMAN, GUEST: Kim Jong-un has played an absolutely brilliant game. He has simultaneously held the United States at bay while opening a relationship with South Korea while threatening and building nuclear weapons and stopping. Just stopping at the right point before they actually had delivered a nuclear weapon. His danger is that he will get overconfident and go too far. The American policy on Korea remains unchanged. We will not tolerate a nuclear weapon that can reach the United States in his hands. We also don’t want a war because there would be terrible unrest. But he’s avoided that and… what he’s heading for is a situation where he can convince the South Koreans to form some sort of vague confederation – we are one country after all — and get them to either diminish or break the relation with the United States. That’s a huge win for North Korea.
MARVIN OLASKY, REPORTER: Would the South Koreans be worried about North Korea eventually taking over and turning it dark?
FRIEDMAN: Their problem is they have a series of worries. One worry is that a war breaks out and their capital city and industrial heartland is destroyed… Second, North Korea really could use a relationship with South Korea. South Korea is an industrial giant. North Korea is a third world country. If the exchange were: We will respect your regime in the north. We will trade with you… However, the price is that you reduce your military presence along the border. We limit our relationship with United States. There is a deal to be made here… The number one underestimated man this year was Kim Jong-un.
OLASKY: Now you are saying they’re at the brink of having a nuclear weapon. They have nuclear weapons, they have bombs.
FRIEDMAN: They do, but delivering an ICBM is not a question of a bomb, although that’s it partly. It is primarily the question of a missile, and the heart of that is the guidance system… The last test they had, which was a couple months ago, the guidance system failed. It came in at the wrong angle and so there is a lot of work to be done. And we will see that work being done, but you can’t do that in secret. You’ve got to fire the missile and test and try it… So it is very clear that he has stopped moving forward, but is in a position to start moving forward whenever he wants. But it might turn out that he never really wanted the nuclear weapon, he simply wanted to put South Korea in a position that it had to consider what was going on.
OLASKY: So we wouldn’t like nuclear weapons, we have our drones. What else would we do? What does the battle really look like at this time?
FRIEDMAN: The bottom looks like this: We would not first attack the nuclear silos except the one missile. Our first attack would be against the artillery in the south. The problem we have is that they have very good anti-aircraft missiles. So the first thing we have to do is take them out… Number two, is there a point that we could strike in the DMZ or just north of there that would cripple their tactical communications. In other words, they couldn’t talk to each other… Finally, do we have a map of their ammunition bunkers that we could attack? …Then we would turn on the various facilities, for building missiles for building weapons… If everything goes right (which it never does) this is something that would be over in a week… This is what is being calculated right now in Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’s office. Jim Mattis is sitting there with his staff gaming over and over again what the options are… He’s made it very clear he doesn’t want to go, but if forced into it, and it’s the president’s decision, he stands ready.
OLASKY: So you have confidence in him, in Mattis?
FRIEDMAN: I have a great deal of confidence in him because when Obama wanted to do something in Iran, it was Mattis who was asking the hard questions: What are they going to do here? He didn’t want to do it. He didn’t like the unknowns and the no other options and Obama fired him. He preferred being fired to letting his guys under his command take a mission that wouldn’t work.
OLASKY: So the last North Korean missile we know did not work well. If it had worked well and it showed they had a guidance system that worked, would the scenario you discussed work well at that point?
FRIEDMAN: I suspect it would and I wonder very much if Kim Jong-un didn’t want us to see it fail. We were uncertain whether they had the guidance system and he let us know he didn’t. It’s a beautiful move on his part. He doesn’t want a war. He wants to get control over the peninsula, over the Korean Peninsula. He wants to move the United States into a position that the United States scares South Korea to death without getting the Americans to attack. I don’t care what you say, if it’s just luck, it’s amazing. But this guy has played it beautifully and I would not put it beyond him that that test was intended to show us that he didn’t have it.
OLASKY: We often hear that he’s crazy, and you’re saying he’s not crazy at all, but that he’s actually a brilliant strategist?
FRIEDMAN: The people who say he’s crazy never cite what he’s crazy about. We like to think of our political leaders as stupid. It makes us feel better about ourselves. If they’re really are stupid and if they really are crazy, they’re very likely not to survive. He has values different from us. He has interests different from us. They may not be ones that we want or would respect, but one of the problems Americans have is whenever they run in to a Saddam or a Muammar Gaddafi the first assumption is, he’s crazy. The second assumption, if we just get rid of him it would be cool because he’s be gone. And it never turns out to be the case. We get something worse.
EICHER: That’s strategist George Friedman talking with WORLD’s Marvin Olasky.