Column: Kim Jong-nam’s assassination crossed a line

The use of VX, a nerve agent and a technical WMD, shows the brute nature of a careless North Korean regime.

Hunter Gilbert is a freshman data journalism major at MU. He is an opinion columnist who writes about rights and tech for The Maneater.

Nerve agents and chemical weapons are nothing new. Chemical weapons were used on battlefields in Europe over a century ago. VX nerve agents were first used as WMDs in the Iran-Iraq war in the ’80s. Sarin gas was used in a subway station terrorist attack in Japan in the ’90s. What occurred in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 13 is a far different predicament when it comes to dealing with chemical weapons and nerve agents.

Kim Jong-nam was the older half-brother of Kim Jong-Un, making him Kim Jong-il’s eldest son. He was exiled from North Korea in 2003 for a variety of reasons, including sneaking into Japan and more than likely falling out of favor with his father. Following 2003, he had been an advocate for reform in North Korea and a critic of his family’s regime and usage of power.

He is now dead, thanks to the nerve agent VX, a tasteless and odorless liquid. This volatile concoction can be absorbed through the skin; in most ways, this is how one may be exposed to it. Only 10 milligrams is needed in order to become a lethal dose.

Currently, South Korean intelligence believes that Kim Jong-un ‘ordered’ his half-brother’s killing. Chemical weapons and nerve agents are banned for the most part and that has kept most nation states from using them. Recently, notable exceptions are Syria, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and now North Korea. Weapons of these sorts are classified as WMDs, weapons of mass destruction, due to their wide range of uses and effective nature.

It is quite concerning when North Korea is believed to have 2,500-5,000 tons of chemical agents stockpiled. The actual threat of North Korea using a chemical weapon, not a nuclear weapon, should be far more frightening. North Korea has roughly 13,000 artillery pieces along its border with South Korea. Chemical and nerve based weapons have been implemented into combat via artillery in the past (examples being World War I and the Iran-Iraq War). This puts the idea of gassing parts of the city in the realm of possible outcomes during an apparent attack. The capital of South Korea is Seoul, which has a metropolitan population of roughly 25 million people. Seoul is roughly only 35 miles from the DMZ between North and South Korea.

The U.N. normally imposes sanctions when North Korea acts out of place, one example being continuing its ballistics program. But there comes a time when sanctions and words are not enough. Due to the revelation that the North Koreans can produce VX, and have synthesized other chemical weapons and nerve agents, the U.N. must take the threat of North Korea far more seriously. Some people had doubts when it came to the possibility of North Korea making a successful ballistic missile program. Albeit, it isn’t 100 percent successful, but it has absolutely shown signs of progress.

There is no doubt that the United States military and South Korea have not made plans to eliminate key targets in North Korea, or have made plans for possible retaliatory strikes or actions. But all of the possibilities and threats should be put on the table. The killing of Kim Jong-nam revealed that North Korea is not only willing to use nerve agents, but they also see no problem using such weapons in a foreign country. What if the VX contaminated something in the airport or the city? Simply put, the world cannot trust something that lethal with North Korea. Something has to be done. Too many lives are at stake when we are talking about WMDs.

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