This article was last modified on December 21, 2011.

Empire Strikes First: 2012, A Tilted Axis

If the American government had released a “Ten Most Wanted” list in January 2011, three names would surely have made the cut: Osama bin Laden, Muammar Gadhafi and Kim Jong-Il. One year later, the world has shifted and likely changed for the better. Let us take this time to reflect on the new world ahead of us.


The world is still threatened by al-Qaeda, an organization that will continue to exist for the foreseeable future. Terror is an idea that cannot be erased, at least not completely. Yet, the death of bin Laden is a major victory for America; he was an iconic figure, a powerful mouthpiece with the deepest of pockets. Will anyone be able to replace him? No. The current leader — Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri — is not a household name and never will be. The families that were ripped apart by bin Laden and his audacious bloodlust can take comfort in knowing that his empire is crumbling. Terror never dies, but its popularity has thankfully waned.


What will happen to Libya in the years ahead? With Gadhafi at the reins for more than forty years, most of the population has never known a world without him. What are we to make of the new leadership? The new head of state, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, is still a wild card. Some question his motives because of his involvement in the former government where he served as Secretary of Justice. Others point to his speaking out on human rights issues that would never have been addressed before. For example, he had attempted to resign for Gadhafi’s failure to release political prisoners. Abdul Jalil is lauded by both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. He is also willing to work with American ambassadors, who have called him “open and cooperative”.

The change in government may also signal a change in the global economy. Libya is an OPEC member and holds the largest proven oil reserves in Africa and the eighth largest in the world with 46.4 billion barrels. Perhaps more importantly, the country borders the Mediterranean Sea. Aside from fresh water, oil remains the most sought commodity in the world and its availability affects everything else — if trucks pay more to fill their gas tanks, every product we buy will cost more. This is obvious, of course, but worth keeping in mind. Could the new government in Libya mean better access to oil? Could it mean safer shipping routes through the Mediterranean? One can only speculate, but there is reason to believe change is coming.

North Korea

North Korea, branded part of the Axis of Evil and an official enemy for over sixty years, may see the most radical changes of any country in 2012. One should never be too optimistic, but the days of normalized relations between North and South may not be far off. This, in turn, affects us more than many realize. The border is the most heavily guarded area in the world with over two million soldiers based there — many of them American. A peace agreement would bring more of our men and women home, reduce our defense costs and free up resources for more pressing matters. While the Korean War officially ended in 1953, we are still technically involved in it today — and they say Vietnam and Afghanistan were long wars!

But what happens next in North Korea all comes down to who controls the throne, the old guard or the new? Twentysomething Kim Jong-un is the new dictator in name, but is he head of state in name only? The Economist Intelligence Unit, a group of business analysts, lists North Korea as the most authoritarian regime in its index of democracy, assessing 167 countries. The misleadingly-named Workers’ Party of Korea (that does nothing to benefit workers) has every reason to try and keep the rule of the iron fist — this is, unfortunately, the culture and way of life of North Korea where 24 million people suffer from chronic malnutrition and are fed propaganda to believe that South Korea and America want to destroy them. Why would the party elite welcome reforms that loosen their hold on the country’s wealth, military and nuclear arsenal?

If left to rule by his own initiative, Kim could move towards a more democratic rule. He was educated in an English-speaking school in Switzerland and is fascinated by American basketball. Appointing Michael Jordan as a cultural ambassador no longer sounds absurd, and perhaps Obama could take his dunking skills to Pyongyang and work out some deals on the court. Kim’s prolonged exposure to a more liberal Western life could affect how he treats the citizens of North Korea. Surely he understands how people outside the country view the repressive regime. Can he really take his experience of freedom and then in good conscience return to cruelly keep his people in the Dark Ages, denied access to the outside world? Anything is possible, but one has to suspect that Kim is not the man his father was.

There will be uphill challenges if Kim chooses the liberalization route. The population, exposed to the outside world, may decide to revolt. Even the most modest reforms require funding, and with what little gross domestic product North Korea has ($24 billion) all going into nuclear research, there is precious little to spare.

Will Korea soon be peaceful again? Will the leader instead be rash and hot-headed, ruling with the spontaneity of youth rather than the calculated wisdom of maturity? No one knows.

The world of 2012 is not the world of 2011.

Gavin Schmitt ( does not believe that the world ends in 2012… unless Michele Bachmann becomes president.

Also try another article under Historical / Biographical, Political
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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