Donald Trump has received his most high-profile endorsement to date: North Korea.
An editorial in DPRK Today, a North Korean state-run propaganda newspaper, called Trump a “far-sighted presidential candidate”. It also praised his proposals to withdraw US forces from South Korea and meet directly with Kim Jong Un, referring to Trump as a “wise politician”. The story first broke on NK news, which makes clear that, while the editorial is not an official endorsement from the North Korean government, it is nonetheless a clear indication of what the presidential race looks like to the Pyongyang elite.
North Korea has been the butt of so many jokes, mocked ruthlessly in Team America as a plaything for a mad alien dictator, while fake stories abound, such as one about Kim Jong Un feeding his uncle to starving dogs. It is sometimes easy to forget that this is not a fictional country, but a brutally real regime of total oppression.
The state inflicts a programme of indoctrination on its citizens that verges on psychological torture, producing generations who have no concept of basic freedoms. Almost half the population faces starvation, 73 percent do not have access to electricity, and contact with the outside world is for the most part inconceivable.
North Korea is also one of the most militarised countries in the world. With mandatory military service, it has almost double the armed forces of its southern neighbour, and spends a quarter of its GDP on defence. (In comparison, the US military spending burden is just 4.3 percent of GDP.) And that does not even take into account its potential nuclear capabilities.
This may not be a country that could currently attack the US, but it could – and routinely threatens to – cause immeasurable damage to the region. For the 50 million people living in South Korea, in particular the 10 million living close to the border, the US military presence is a vital safeguard against invasion and annihilation. This is not hyperbole – North Korea has 1000 ballistic missiles that are capable of wiping out the South Korean capital city of Seoul.
Any potential world leader needs to take North Korea seriously. But in his bid to make headlines by recklessly spouting provocations, Donald Trump suggested in March that the US should withdraw troops from South Korea (and Japan), and let North Korea’s neighbours defend themselves against the Hermit Kingdom by acquiring nuclear weapons. Such a proposal flies in the face of 70 years of US foreign policy, and would inevitably destabilise the extremely fragile situation. But of course, Trump doesn’t seem to care.
The same DPRK Today editorial urged US voters not to vote for “dull” Hillary Clinton, who has proposed using the Iranian deal as a model for improving relations with North Korea. Inadvertently, it has starkly highlighted the choice facing Americans in November. There is the “dull” policy wonk with decades of experience, a nuanced grasp of global diplomacy, and the understanding that difficult conflicts cannot be solved with easy answers. She may not be inspirational (at least to North Koreans), but she is cautious and pragmatic.
Then there is the bombastic headline-grabbing Donald Trump, whose foreign policy is as basic as it is inconsistent: “Build a wall”, “Ban the Muslims”, “Give South Koreans nukes and forget about them”.
This is not a joke, and Americans should be very, very worried. North Korea is not a toy for presidential candidates to play with. That the government of a country which routinely imprisons, tortures and murders its own citizens wants Trump to become President of the United States is a sign of just how dangerous he is to global stability.