The Three Body Problem is an incredibly gripping Chinese science fiction series. The trilogy starts during Mao Zedong’s cultural revolution, covers humanity discovering, losing to and overcoming an alien civilization, and ends with the merciful death of the universe.
In the second book of the Three Body trilogy, The Dark Forest, the Trisolaris alien civilization is heading to Earth to take over. The Trisolaris solar system has three suns (tri-solaris, get it?) which gives them some pretty annoying orbits. So they are heading to our Solar System and taking over by force.
The Trisolaran civilization has had a few more millennia to develop so they possess extremely powerful technology that we can’t even dream of. In humanity’s first encounter with the Trisolarans, the equivalent of a single Trisolaran dinghy wiped out the majority of Earth’s fleet. So once the Trisolarans get to earth, humans are as good as done.
But right as the Trisolarans are about to reach Earth, a Chinese nobody named Luo Ji discovers how to use the sun as the ultimate weapon. To test this weapon, Luo Ji uses the sun as a megaphone to broadcast the coordinates of a star a few lightyears away. Within just a few decades, that solar system around the broadcast star gets blown up by an anonymous alien civilization. So now Luo Ji can broadcast any coordinates and anything in that area will be destroyed shortly after broadcast.
With this new weapon, Luo Ji issues a threat to the Trisolarans: come to the Solar System and I will broadcast the sun’s coordinates, thereby killing all of us. At this point in the story, Luo Ji seems crazy enough to hold true on his threat, even if it would also mean the extinction of humanity. This threat keeps the Trisolarans out of the Solar System and begins an uneasy truce between humanity and the Trisolarans, the Deterrence Era.
In the Deterrence Era, the UN rigs up a self destruct button that Luo Ji constantly holds. If the Trisolarans cross the Solar System boundary, Luo Ji will be notified and can press a series of buttons that will ensure both civilizations destruction. So the Trisolarans park their ships on the edge of the Solar System, waiting for an opening.
As Luo Ji gets older, humanity gets more comfortable with the situation and the Trisolarans. The Trisolarans begin to pick up humanity’s customs and make art, music and movies in the spirit of humanity. So when it is time to pick a successor to Luo Ji, the public sentiment no longer views the Trisolarans as an existential threat.
Humanity picks Cheng Xie, a Chinese woman who has traveled through time and comes across as a gentler, motherly figure. Within seconds of the transfer of power away from Luo Ji, the Trisolarans attack Earth. Cheng has 5 minutes to push the self destruct button, but the Trisolarans have correctly predicted that she would be too scared to push the button and destroy both civilizations.
The Trisolarans reach Earth, destroy the self destruct button, and take over the planet.
Heading into WWII, the Korean Peninsula was a protectorate of Japan. After Japan’s defeat in WWII, the US and Soviet Union split the Korean Peninsula along the 38th Parallel. The Soviet Union established the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the North while the US set up the Republic of Korea in the South, both governments modeled after their superpower.
Since then North and Korea have followed the trajectory of their superpower counterparts. South Korea has flourished as capitalist, liberal democracy and now has the 11th largest GDP in the world. North Korea has persisted in a Communist cult of personality centered around the Kim family and most of the country is impoverished.
In the North, rule has passed from Kim to Kim to Kim. Kim Il-sung was appointed the first Premier of North Korea by the Soviets. Kim Il-sung began his rule by slowly accumulating wealth and power into his inner circle. After a stalemate in the Korean civil war, the Soviets decided that Kim Il-sung gained too much power and decided to remove him in the “August Faction Incident”. But Il-sung saw the coup coming and used the chaos to consolidate more power and remove Chinese and Soviet influence from North Korea.
During the entire reign of the Kim family, they have constantly attacked by outsiders, North, South, East, and West alike. They have remained in power through despotic control of the people and an emphasis on military strength. While their economy has suffered, the North has always kept a strong, well trained military to fend off foreign invasion.
The current Kim in power, known as the “Supreme Leader”, is Kim Il-sung’s grandson named Kim Jung-un. In the terms of The Three Body Problem, Kim Jung-un is North Korea’s Luo Ji. But instead of holding onto a self-destruct button for the Solar System, he is building an increasingly powerful nuclear deterrent. This nuclear deterrence relies on the perception that Kim is willing to launch nukes even when it would ensure the destruction of his regime.
In this light, a lot of his more erratic actions can be interpreted as a rational response to the West’s posturing. He has to show that he is crazy enough to attack, even when he has nothing to gain.
When Kim’s exiled half-brother Kim Jong-nam became increasingly critical of Kim’s regime, he issued a standing order for his half-brother’s assassination. In February 2017, Kim Jong-nam was assassinated in a Malaysian airport when two women sprayed VX nerve agent on his face. With this assassination, Kim Jung-un eliminated a vocal critic while demonstrating to the West that his capability for violence, even on his own family.
This is why increased threats will not deter him from his nuclear mission. If the US shows military might and the ability to shoot down his missiles, Kim must then figure out how to make more missiles that won’t be shot down.
Kim knows that the second the West has the ability to invade North Korea without tremendous civilian casualties, they will take that opportunity. For preservation of his regime, his focus on nuclear deterrence is rational.
Unfortunately, the Three Body Problem, doesn’t give us a solution. But it shows that the current cycle of escalating threats is foolish and untenable.