With two bullies at the helm in the US and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as North Korea is officially known, the threat of nuclear war has never seemed so imminent. DPRK leader, Kim Jong Un, needs to further tighten his hold on the nation of 25 million people by ratcheting up the age-long propaganda about America’s quest to annihilate the country. Donald Trump, contending with the lowest approval ratings of any American President at the 200-day mark, desperately seeks a game changer that would upend the endless controversies around his administration. Even if he is ultimately removed from office, as some believe he would, starting a needless nuclear war would definitely distinguish his place in American history. But the choices are grim.
In the wake of a fresh dose of sanctions levied against the reclusive state by the United Nations, Pyongyang vowed to teach America a “severe lesson,” and undertake “strong follow-up measures.” America’s crime was that it crafted the offending sanctions package, which was surprisingly supported by all five permanent members of the Security Council. Pyongyang did not assail its traditional allies, Russia and China, but singled out America for rebuke. To further stoke the tension, the Washington Post reported that Pyongyang had miniaturized a nuclear warhead that could be delivered by missiles.
In response, Trump warned that continuing threat by Pyongyang would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” The world was startled. Never lacking in bombastic invectives, North Korea shot back, announcing that its military was “examining the operational plan” to strike Guam, a US territory in the Pacific that harbours two nuclear-armed military bases. Medium-to-long-range strategic ballistic missiles, the Koreans declared, would be deployed, “to send a serious warning signal to the US.” Trump retorted that that the US military is “locked and loaded” just in case North Korea should “act unwisely.”
The amplification of strongly worded statements is a well-documented propaganda tactic routinely used by DPRK to ward off perceived US hostility. The country had enjoyed unchallenged deployment of bellicose rhetoric until Trump arrived with his ‘America First’ policy, which seemingly required some nationalism undergirded by tough talk and ‘alternative truth.’ America would be comfortable looking after itself, as envisioned by Trump, but the incessant firing of missiles, both long and short by North Korea, disturbs the quiet Trump needs to reset America.
While the war of words continues, it is hard to determine whether either Trump or Kim would play the endgame as both men seem to enjoy posturing. At 33, with just a child and no known outside investment, Kim may be ready to risk everything, including the lives of over 25 million North Koreans. His only introspection may be why a family dynasty of almost 70 years could crumble under his watch. Trump, at 71 and with wealth touted in billions, may not be willing to quit mother earth just yet. His flamboyant lifestyle, cushioned by proceeds from investments in real estate, is such intimidating accomplishment that, in Trump’s reckoning, cannot be jettisoned now. So, he needs to stay alive to protect America from the Russians, Chinese, Europeans, Arabs, Iranians, ISIS, Mexicans, Al-Shabab, and Hezbollah. And his opponents believe he lacks the steel to frighten a determined foe, moreso a nuclear-armed Kim.
I have been imagining the work of communications managers on both sides. Trump has, via Twitter, emerged the indisputable communicator-in-chief of his administration. His aides only need to find and offer justifications for his impulsive pronouncements, even when they say nothing or mean different things.
The North presents a different ball game. Most information from the country emanate from the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). That is expected; it is a communist state where every aspect of society is strictly controlled and citizens exist just for the purpose of eulogizing the leadership. Expectedly, most news are nimbly choreographed to project DPRK’s image and military advancements.
Given the fixation with existential threat, notably from America and its ‘puppets,’ an outline of the work of a North Korea spokesman or speech writer can be easily figured out. Even without prompting from the high command, all that is required is the creation of scenarios that would be subsequently plugged when a real situation arises. For instance, tomorrow, Trump tweets that “a new defence system goes up in South Korea and Japan shortly.” North Korea’s response, “this is an extremely unacceptable provocation that will be met with severe punishment with the full strength of our sovereignty.” Then Pyongyang fires a medium range missile that lands in Japan’s territorial waters. America calls for a meeting of the UN Security Council. Trump blasts, “China has failed the world, unfit for a seat on UN Security Council.” The Chinese sue for maturity and de-escalation but Pyongyang responds “the great aggressor is threatening global peace and the good people of DPRK; our gallant revolutionary army stands ready to extinguish this fire with the fiercest arsenal.”
Such diatribes are not exclusive to Trump and Kim. Prolonged military rule in Nigeria came with such frightening rhetoric. Sadly, the restoration of democratic governance has barely toned down belligerent language and action in the country. And as Nigerians increasingly call out government on responsibility and accountability, the North Korean tonality will expectedly grow louder. However, if the increasing awareness among Nigerians about their rights and expectations from government precipitates class wars that could unravel a great nation, let it be. In any case, as Nigeria’s democracy is steadily militarised, the Federal Government would undoubtedly find in people like me the capacity to craft appropriate terse rhetoric, whether directed at Charly Boy, IPOB, Boko Haram, Badoo, BBOG, kidnappers, PDP, restructurists, and indeed anyone that threatens Nigeria’s ‘non-negotiable’ ‘unity’ and ‘indivisibility.’
– Nwachukwu is a Lagos-based communications consultant.