Birds of a Feather: Kim Jong-un and Donald J Trump

By Jan Lundius
STOCKHOLM / ROME, Mar 11 2019 (IPS)

After his first meeting with Kim Jong-un Donald Trump declared: “And then we fell in love, okay? No, really – he wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters.” Maybe it was a joke, maybe not. At least Trump indicated that he and Kim Jong-un were friends. In his book De Amicitia, written 44 BCE, Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote “A friend is, as it were, a second self.” Are Trump and Kim Jong-un really friends? At least they seem to have many personal traits in common.

Contrary to Kim Jong-un, Donald J Trump does not appear as particularly mysterious. He is apparently a full-fledged narcissist. The mystery consists of the fact that he has been elected president of the United States and after two years remains in power. Maybe Trump´s allure originates from the fact that his persona mirrors his tough upbringing and privileged class?

Trump grew up in the shadow of a dominant, callous father and took over his economic empire. May that be one reason to why Trump is able to sympathize with Kim Jong-un, who was born privileged, endowed with inadequate empathy and raised in the shadow of a dictatorial father? Nevertheless, Kim Jong-un comes from a completely different environment than Trump, raised as he was within the innermost circle of a totalitarian regime, which twenty years ago observed how a tenth of its oppressed subjects succumbed to a famine, allowed to continue almost unabated while their tightly controlled state machinery spent millions on the well-being of the Kim family and a money devouring nuclear program. This while people who expressed any kind of complaint, or even had tried to get hold of some food for their families, were interned, starved to death and executed. This piece of history, as well as the current existence of deplorable concentration camps, were not mentioned by the propaganda that Trump supporters unfurled in anticipation of his meeting with the Rocket Man.

Trump´s world, like Kim Jong-un´s, consists of a grotesque lie. It is fake, but hardly fake news, we all know that it is all a smoke screen, an illusion constituted by boastfulness and show business. Kim Jong-un´s world is likewise a bizarre sham, where an unpleasant reality is hidden behind imaginative Potemkin façades.

One conspicuous aspect of the North Korean personality cult is the “cultural” interests of the ruling Kim family, which manifests itself primarily through extensive film productions, operas, circus performances and the meticulously choreographed mass gymnastics of the Arirang Festivals. Just like Trump, Kim Jong-un appears to be fascinated by the military parades, mass meetings and beauty contests he grew up with.

It is a mystery that a man like the dictatorial and murderous Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong-un´s grandfather and founder of North Korea´s ruling dynasty, is said to be the author of the play/novel/opera/movie The Flower Girl, which tells a story of how a beautiful girl is plagued by being born poor and oppressed. How could Kim Il Sung and his successors then behave even worse than the feudal lords he had condemned so passionately? Like the Korean landlords´ rule the Kim dynasty´s power is supported by foreign super powers ̶ China and the Soviet Union (and later Russia) and like the former Korean kings the Kim family lives in luxury, while their underlings subsist in fear and oppression.

Whether The Flower Girl really was written by Kim Il Sung remains an open question. Maybe he was just as much the author of this popular tale as Donald Trump was of The Art of the Deal ̶ i.e. not at all. Nevertheless, The Flower Girl has just like Trump´s The Art of the Deal, which constantly is referred to by his supporters and opponents, become something of a trademark for the Kim dynasty, for example The Flower Girl featured on North Korean banknotes (1 won), while the US president on several occasions has stated that The Art of the Deal is his favourite book, “after the Bible” he likes to add.

After he had cleansed his Worker´s Party from opponents, Kim Il Sung turned his attention to his countrymen. Each citizen was subjected to rigorous background checks and classified in accordance with his/her ancestry and family ̶ parents, grandparents, even first and second cousins, their occupations and beliefs. Had any of them collaborated with the Japanese, South Koreans, or Americans? Were they “pure” Koreans born in the country, or was Japanese or Chinese blood running through their veins? With all likelihood this paranoia subsists under Kim Jong-un and is supported by his propaganda machinery, just as Trump promotes xenophobia and racism to strengthen his own power.

Kim Jong-un´s father, Kim Jong Il, was a movie enthusiast, with a collection of more than 20,000 DVDs, among them his favourites ̶ James Bond movies, Friday the 13th, Rambo, Godzilla and action movies from Hong Kong. The latter is a taste he shared with both his son and Donald Trump. USA’s own Great Leader does not get tired of watching his favourite movie Bloodsport, in which Jean-Claude van Damme with great variety kills his opponents during martial art contests staged within underground fighting dens. Like his son, Kim Jong Il was also a great basketball fan and like him he organized a pop group consisting solely of female artists, but unlike Kim Jong-un, he enjoyed their appearance and music only in closed company.

The contemporary North Korean popular music success Moranbong Band, is organized by Kim Jong-un and consists of his personal selection of 20 young women from all over North Korea. With their miniskirts and colourful outlook, Moranbong Band has become a trendsetter in North Korea, where women increasingly are abandoning their drab grey or brown uniforms in synthetic materials, for increasingly colourful outfits. Like Trump, Kim Jong-un likes to surround himself with beautiful, young women, especially those who enthusiastically expose their devotion to him.

Apart from attractive young women, Kim Jong-un is also fascinated by impressive, lavishly looking building projects. Pyongyang increasingly assumes the appearance of an oversized Hollywood film set, like something made for a Disneyland-inspired mastodont movie, a kind of glamour version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Visitors marvel at the city’s vast squares and largely empty boulevards, its pastel-coloured skyscrapers dominated by the gargantuan Ryonyong. This huge, unfinished building was designed by the end of the 1980s and intended to be the world’s largest hotel. An oversized 300 metres high Trump Tower like edifice with 3000 rooms. At the top there would be luxury restaurants and a casino housed within a rotating tower. The building is now a huge shell, covered with glass windows. Very few know what is inside, probably it is empty.

Like Kim Jong-un, Trump is a child of his times and environment. He lives in his own secluded dream world of luxury mansions and golf courses, fascinated by a make-believe existence of glamorous shows, shallow movies and tributes provided by the fake cosiness of his favourite TV-show Fox and Friends and stirred up mass meetings. He does not read any books, receive most of his stimuli in the form of pictures, mainly television. Like Kim Jong-un Trump surrounds himself with syncopates and thrives on fear of foreign invaders. His written means of expression essentially consists of Twitter and the signing of Executive Orders. It would not be surprising if Kim Jong-un is found to be living in a similar sphere of mental seclusion and that he actually has found a friend, i.e. “a second self”, in an equally narcissistic Donald J Trump.

Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.

Preaching World Peace by Day, Peddling Lethal Weapons By Night

UN Security Council in session.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 11 2019 (IPS)

The Middle East, one of the world’s most politically-volatile and war-ravaged regions, has doubled its arms imports during the past five years, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The sharp increase in arms purchases has been triggered – directly or indirectly—by several conflicts and civil wars in the region, primarily the devastating four-year-old military conflict in Yemen which has resulted in “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis” with more than 5,000 civilians either killed or wounded in 2018.

The latest figures on military sales released by SIPRI March 11 also identifies the world’s five largest arms exporters in 2014–18, namely, the United States, Russia, France, Germany and China. (with the exception of Germany, all four are permanent members of the UN Security Council, along with UK, the sixth largest arms exporter).

Together, they accounted for a hefty 75 per cent of the total volume of arms exports in 2014–18.

The Security Council, the most powerful UN body dealing largely with conflict-resolution, relentlessly preaches the message of peace to the world at large– while all five of its permanent members (P-5s) are peddling arms and sustaining conflicts – in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and fuelling the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The warring parties in all of these conflicts are using weapons either from the US, France, UK, China or Russia—or are receiving military intelligence and air support from the five big powers.

One Asian diplomat put it this way: “They are retailing peace while wholesaling arms”.

SIPRI said arms imports by states in the Middle East increased by 87 per cent between 2009–13 and 2014–18 and accounted for 35 per cent of global arms imports in 2014–18.

Saudi Arabia became the world’s largest arms importer in 2014–18, with an increase of 192 per cent compared with 2009–13.

Arms imports by Egypt, the third largest arms importer in 2014–18, tripled (206 per cent) between 2009–13 and 2014–18 while arms imports by Israel (354 per cent), Qatar (225 per cent) and Iraq (139 per cent) also rose between 2009–13 and 2014–18, according to SIPRI.

However, Syria’s arms imports fell by 87 per cent, despite an ongoing eight-year-old civil war in that country which is militarily supported by Russia and China.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Senior Fellow and Adjunct Full Professor with the Security Studies Program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS that SIPRI has once again documented the continuing contribution of the major suppliers to a world awash in weaponry, with the United States remaining the primary culprit.

“Because the supply of major conventional weapons is so concentrated, control measures involving the top six suppliers could have a significant effect on the international market”.

Unfortunately, these countries have allowed profits to dominate principles, said Dr Goldring, who is also a Visiting Professor of the Practice in the Duke University Washington DC program.

She said the consequences of the excessive and destabilizing accumulations of weapons are particularly devastating in the Middle East.

“Each year, the US Department of State documents extensive Saudi human rights abuses. Yet the Trump Administration enables these same abuses with its arms transfers. The Trump Administration has also failed to hold Saudi Arabia responsible for the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”

She also pointed out that the Trump Administration continues to focus on increasing profits from arms sales, rather than on the human consequences of these sales.

However, there are still reasons for hope.

For example, Members of Congress are moving to restrict US military activities related to the war in Yemen, and to hold Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, said Dr Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

Asked about the rise in arms sales to the Middle East, in the context of conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Libya, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters last week: “None of these conflicts need more arms. They need more political commitment to achieving peace for the people”.

Asked about transparency in arms sales, Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher at SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme, told IPS
transparency differs among the top-5 arms exporters, USA, Russia, France Germany and China (and the UK as 6th)

All five (plus UK) usually report their exports of major arms to the UN Register of Conventional Arms (UNROCA).

France, Germany and the UK also report exports of small arms to the UNROCA, and they report similar data to the Arms Trade Treaty secretariat (the other three are not members to the ATT).

But reporting to the UNROCA is not always complete or accurate, and many states do not submit information.

He pointed out that Germany, the UK and France publish annual arms export reports and submit data to the annual EU arms export report.
There is a large amount of data in there, which gives a good overview of the arms exports of these countries, even do they are not always easy to read, said Wezeman.

He said the US has several administrative procedures for arms exports.

Exports in which the US government plays a leading role, either because it involves military aid or selling surplus DoD (Department of Defence) equipment or because it involves what is called Foreign Military Sales (FMS) in which the DoD helps allied states with administering and negotiating arms procurement in the US, such arms exports are generally rather transparent.

The government will release formal announcements when a country officially starts negotiating for a major arms deal and also when the actual contract is signed.

However, when a country buys weapons directly from a US company, with the government only providing the export permit, information will be more scarce.

Wezeman said Russia and China do not publish national arms export reports.

Asked whether there are any restrictions on the use of these weapons by the buyers– for example using them against civilians — or any restrictions on the transfer of these weapons to third parties without the permission of the exporting country, Wezeman said there can be restrictions on end-use.

For example, when Germany supplied armoured vehicles as military aid to Turkey it has at times included a clause that these were not to be used in the East of Turkey, in the war with Kurdish groups.

Last week, it was reported that the US appears to have included a clause that Pakistan not to use its American-made F-16 fighter planes over Kashmir, though exactly what the clause says is not known.

A clause that the weapons are not to be used against civilians is not likely to be included, as using arms deliberately against civilians is already prohibited by international law.

Wezeman said it is common to include clauses that the buyer of arms be not allowed to transfer them to anyone else without the explicit permission from the exporting state.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@ips.org