The execution of ex-Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi sent shock waves throughout the world, especially for the few remaining dictators, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Cuba's Fidel Castro, and in particular, Kim Jong-Il of North Korea.
Muammar Gaddafi and Kim Jong-Il share a lot of similar traits. Both were born in the same year and had run their respective countries with four decades of terror. By any measure both can be easily ranked among the world's worst and most brutal dictators. And the dual became notoriously famous not only for their brutality and state terrorism, but also because of their erratic behavior. Both rulers have made Time magazine's "10 most egregious abusers of power in the world."
Both dictators were obsessed with blowing up civilian aircrafts. To sabotage the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, on Nov. 29, 1987, North Korean agents planted a bomb on the Korean Air Flight 858. The bomb exploded over the Indian Ocean and all 104 passengers and 11 crew members on board were killed. In retaliation of the 1986 U.S. air raid of Tripoli, Gaddafi orchestrated the Lockerbie Bombing on Dec. 21, 1988. The Pan Am Flight 103 terrorist attack killed all 243 passengers and 16 crew members, along with 11 Lockerbie residents.
So what lessons has Kim Jong-Il learned from his dictator friend's bloody demise?
The first lesson that Kim has learned from Gaddafi's death is: Never disarm yourself.
This March, just as NATO operations in Libya began, a North Korean spokesperson announced the lesson that Kim regime had learned: "It has been shown to the corners of the earth that Libya's giving up its nuclear arms was used as an invasion tactic to disarm the country by sugarcoating it with words like 'guaranteed security' and 'bettering of relations.' Having one's own strength is the only way to keep the peace."
As Kenneth Waltz of the University of California-Berkeley points out, "The gruesome end to Gaddafi's rule has likely confirmed what Kim Jong-Il must have long been aware-a dictator who wants to hold on to power should also hold onto his nuclear weapons? Conventional weapons have time and again shown themselves to be unreliable deterrents when state survival is in question. Nuclear weapons have never failed to deter other states-no matter how powerful those states may be. The strong have been able to deter the strong-the United States and Soviet Union did so for decades-but, alas, the weak can also deter the strong. This surely played a large role in why the U.S. was so eager to disarm Gaddafi in 2003; it is also why we'd like to see the same from North Korea. But, now that Kim has watched the demise of one of his fellow dictators, we are not likely to."
Another lesson that Kim has learned from the latest developments in Libya is that in order to avoid being overthrown like Gaddafi, never gamble on loosening up political control and cooperating with the outside world.
"Gaddafi's death may have rattled Kim Jong-Il," says North Korean refugee author Kang Chol-Hwan, "but it is extremely difficult for an uprising to take place in the North because the unprecedented degree of oppression and the fact that most North Koreans are still oblivious to what is happening in the outside world. You can read more at the link but anyone who thinks that what happened in Libya can happen the same way in North Korea is unfortunately uninformed about the situation in North Korea. As repressive as the Gaddafi regime was it was nowhere near as repressive as the Kim regime in North Korea."
Yoo Ho-Yeol of Korea University agrees: "In terms of openness to the outside world, North Korea is much more isolated than Libya. In terms of how strong and impenetrable the system is, Gaddafi is not a match for Kim Jong-Il. In terms of the sophistication of ideological indoctrination and maintaining the oppressive political system, if Gaddafi is a high school kid, Kim Jong-Il is way up on the Ph.D. level."
Gaddafi's brutal end has given Kim Jong-Il a fresh reason to hold on even tighter to his autocratic rule and his nuclear weapons, to make his repressive regime even more repressive, in order to avoid the same destiny. For the time being, North Korea is unlikely to go through a regime change like Libya.
Dr. Xiaoxiong Yi is the director of Marietta College's China Program.