A portly man who has been suspected of wearing platform shoes and having an unhealthy appetite for moviesand movie starscan be expected to be the butt of jokes. But North Korea's Dear Leader is no laughing matter. Since his accession to power on the death of his father Kim Il Sung, in 1994, Kim Jong Il has shown that an economic basket case of a state, which at times has been unable to feed its people, and which is brutally authoritarian, can still manage to keep the great powers off balanceso long as it has, or plausibly threatens to have, nuclear weapons. U.S. officials, together with those of South Korea, Japan, Russia and China, try to figure Kim's motivations precisely because Pyongyang's nuclear program makes North Korea one of the most dangerous regimes in the world.
Kim is no fool. Those who have met him describe a man who is smart and has a supreme sense of self-confidence, almost as if the movie buff aspired to be a director, shuffling everyone else around at his command. And though North Korea can seem one of the places most isolated from world affairs, Kim is said to keep abreast of events by trolling the Internet and watching TV.
The possibility of nuclear proliferation is one of the great existential threats of our time. In the next few years, finding a way to disarm North Korea while satisfying Kim's iron determination to secure the survival of his regime will continue to be a priority for Kim's neighbors and Washington. That's no joke.
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