Last week’s apparent assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother in a Malaysian airport further isolates a country already cut off from the rest of the world.
While North Korea has very few friends, it is one of the most isolated countries in the world. But even before the alleged killing of Kim Jong Nam, the diplomatic relations it does have with countries like China and Malaysia were already strained.
Much of the world believes North Korea ordered the hit on Kim Jong Un’s half-brother and experts say that could further alienate the country from the few allies it has.
“By conducting this kind of killing, North Korea is biting the hand that feeds it economically by alienating China, by running the risk of further restrictions in Malaysia and by essentially looking like an actor that is unreasonable,” said Scott Snyder, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, “thus making it much more difficult to try and use reason or dialogue as a way of addressing the problem.”
Snyder said if North Korea’s leader is willing to kill a member of his own family, who knows what he’s capable of doing next.
“It shows a depth of paranoia on the part of Kim Jong Un that implies that he will go after enemies, especially family members and remove them as potential alternative sources of competition for rule,” Snyder said.
Malaysian officials say Kim Jong Nam’s cause of death has not been determined but an autopsy showed no evidence of a heart attack.
North Korea’s ambassador to Malaysia has cast doubt on the investigation. That caused a diplomatic spat between North Korea and Malaysia, one of its few remaining friends in the region.
And that comes as North Korea’s vital ally, China, is angry that its neighbor carried out ballistic missile tests last week.
Snyder said the Trump administration should make taming North Korea its No. 1 priority because of the country’s provocative and dangerous antics.
“North Korea continues to work on nuclear and missile development program with the intention of having a direct nuclear strike capability on the United States,” he said. “This should be a very high priority for the Trump administration.”
The latest U.N. sanctions restrict the exports of coal from North Korea, the regime’s biggest source of hard currency. China has also said it would impose a ban on North Korea coal for the rest of the year.
As the world is put on high alert, Snyder said, the president should not issue empty threats or bluffs to North Korea. If he threatens North Korea, Snyder said, he has to be ready and willing to back it up.