Friendless Kim pins his hopes on nuclear card: The 81-year-old Great Leader of North Korea, besieged but defiant, is using his only effective ploy in a game of brinkmanship, says Terry McCarthy in Tokyo

KIM IL SUNG is lonely. The 81-year-old 'Great Leader', who has ruled unchallenged for nearly half a century over North Korea, now finds himself besieged on all sides, one of the new bogeymen in the post-Cold War world. And the more the world gangs up on him, the more cornered and desperate he feels.

He may not be entirely without friends: in the past few weeks, according to Pyongyang government radio, he has received delegations from the Nepalese Communist Party and the Paraguay Revolutionary Party. And as Asia's longest-lasting head of state he took time to send a message of congratulations to Benazir Bhutto on her election as Prime Minister in Pakistan.

But from the US and its allies in Asia and Europe, Kim Il Sung suffers the same degree of animosity and vilification as the Serb militias in Bosnia, the warlords in Somalia and the Haitian military. The American imperialists and their lackeys have dubbed him 'mad', 'dangerously unpredictable', 'a pariah' and 'the last Stalinist'. His country does not have diplomatic relations with Washington, Tokyo or London. Even his former friends, Russia and China, have stopped their aid to Pyongyang, and now have diplomatic relations with Seoul.

Kim Il Sung maintains, however, one distinction: he has 'the Bomb', or is very close to acquiring it. For that reason the Americans, the Japanese and the South Koreans are forced to talk to him.

How far North Korea's nuclear weapons development has progressed is unclear. But as Bill Clinton, the United States President, emphasised in a television interview on Sunday, nuclear proliferation is the last thing the US wants to see now the Cold War is over. 'North Korea cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear bomb,' Mr Clinton declared, adding that an attack on South Korea would be considered as an attack on the US.

Kim Il Sung is aware of the concerns in the West about his nuclear programme, which he continues to shield from international inspectors despite obligations to allow them in under the country's membership of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). And he knows that his arms dealings with Iran and other Middle East nations are further causes for alarm, particularly to Israel. But he has no other cards to play.

The nuclear card is a powerful one. The IAEA is increasingly concerned that North Korea's refusal to admit its inspectors is making a mockery of the agency. Last week the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on North Korea to open its nuclear facilities. The US and South Korea have threatened to call for economic sanctions through the UN Security Council.

But Kim Il Sung thinks he can rely on China to head off the threat of sanctions. And meanwhile his diplomats are continuing secret talks with the Americans through the North Korean delegation at the UN in New York. In exchange for allowing international inspectors into the Yongbyon nuclear complex, Kim Il Sung wants a high price: diplomatic relations with the US and Japan, an end to the annual Team Spirit military exercises between South Korea and the US that his army always fears is going to turn into a real invasion and economic assistance for his shrivelling economy.

Most of all he wants it done in a way that does not cause him to lose face and which will one day permit his son, Kim Jong Il - the 'Dear Leader' - to succeed him. For most of his adult life Kim senior has preached the virtues of the North Korean socialist system of juche, or self-reliance, which was to create a workers' paradise on earth. In fact it has ended up in an economic shambles, with food shortages, idle factories and yearly declines in national output. Huge labour camps hold tens of thousands of political prisoners, state censorship ensures news does not seep in from abroad (North Koreans have still not been told that US astronauts have landed on the moon) and the dream of a workers' paradise is in tatters.

Kim Il Sung knows that all is not well at home, but to admit this openly to the world is another matter. Rather than suffer the humiliation of begging for Western credits as the disintegrating states of Eastern Europe have been forced to do, the Great Leader would like to be treated as an equal. Which means holding on to the nuclear card as long as possible.

He does not fear pre-emptive military strikes from the US air force: his military chiefs have assured him that all the important nuclear laboratories, along with many tanks, planes and missile silos, are safely buried in tunnels deep underneath the country's many mountains. And he knows Japan and South Korea are against strong-arm tactics. Seoul fears a military backlash from North Korea's 1.1 million-strong army across the demilitarised zone that separates the peninsula.

Tokyo does not want any further destabilisation on its doorstep. Les Aspin, the US Defense Secretary, discovered as much on his tour of the region last week.

So, despite the occasional sabre-rattling of defence hawks in the US, Kim Il Sung knows that as long as he keeps his nuclear card close to his chest his enemies must keep talking to him. The Americans have even offered to help him develop light-water nuclear reactors to take the place of the reactors he is now building, which would produce plutonium, the raw ingredient for nuclear weapons. Kim Il Sung may not have any real friends. But with his undisclosed nuclear card, he doesn't need any.

Leading article, page 17

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before