South Korea plans ‘decapitation unit’ for Kim

Targeted: “The best deterrent is to make him fear for his life,” said a South Korean general.

Would simply killing Kim Jong-un make the world safer? South Korea will set up a unit to do just that in order to scare the North’s leadership. But many fear it would only make things worse.

Decades of sanctions. Hours and hours of diplomatic talks. Constant military build-ups on the world’s most tense border. Still North Korea is more dangerously eccentric than ever.

But one simple solution, forever lurking at the back of leaders’ minds, now appears to be under serious consideration.

Why not just assassinate Kim Jong-un?

A day after North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test, the South Korean defence minister Song Young-moo told lawmakers in Seoul that a special forces brigade described as a “decapitation unit” would be established by the end of the year.

It is rare for a government to announce a strategy to kill a head of state — this would be an unambiguous act of war. And it is likely that the move is designed to intimidate the North’s leadership, but the commandos will work with the group of US Navy Seals who carried out the most famous assassination of recent years: Bin Laden.

Donald Trump has clearly signalled his desire to sort out the North Korean situation soon. The South, not a nuclear power, needs US assistance to restrain their northern neighbours.

Since the late 1970s assassinating a foreign leader has been off-limits for the USA. But at the height of the Cold War, anti-American leaders such as Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Guatemala’s Jacobo Árbenz were on the CIA’s hit-list.

So what would be the consequences of cutting the head off the snake?

As Daniel R. DePetris writes in National Interest, North Korea is “an entirely different situation from Iraq in 2003”, when the US military sought to oust Saddam Hussein.

Kim Jong-un is solidly in power, and has marginalised or killed any rivals. Many North Koreans are fiercely devoted to him. And we know so little about the country it is impossible to predict whether Kim’s replacement would have a different outlook.

DePetris says: “Killing Kim and banking on the idea that the regime would change how it does business after seven decades would be a high price to pay if that untested theory proved to be wrong.”

Last resort

“Assassinating Kim Jong-un is the only answer,” say some. North Korea is run by a personality cult, and so Kim is not just any replaceable leader. The power vacuum in North Korea would allow the West to set up a friendly government in North Korea. It would be a symbolic victory from which the regime could not recover.

But most experts still believe this would be a foolish move, riddled with risks and unknowns. What if Kim Jong-un has ordered his generals to press the nuclear button in the case of his death, for example? Assassinations never de-escalate matters — just look at how the first world war started. Killing Kim could endanger every one of us.

You Decide

  1. Would assassinating Kim Jong-un make you feel more or less safe?
  2. Can assassination ever be morally justified?


  1. Divide into pairs. One person plays a military figure urging a leader to authorise an assassination, while the other plays the leader who has ethical objections to allowing it.
  2. Many major world leaders escaped assassination attempts. Pick one, and write 500 words on how you think history would have been different if they had been killed.

Some People Say...

“Kim Jong-un would be more dangerous dead than alive.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
That the South Koreans plan to set up a “decapitation unit” which will be prepared to kill Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea. They would be aided by the same US Navy Seal team which killed Osama bin Laden. We know that the Americans has considered assassinating foreign leaders in the past, but that since the late 1970s they have abandoned this approach.
What do we not know?
How easy it would be to find Kim Jong-un. In the event of a war he would be likely to hide in North Korea’s network of underground tunnels. And although a South Korean general has said that it has missiles powerful enough to slam through the bunkers, it is still hard to have sufficient information about Kim Jong-un’s daily movements.

Word Watch

World’s most tense border
North and South Korea are separated by the DMZ - the demilitarised zone. The zone is 2.5 miles wide and 160 miles long, and the no-man’s land is filled with land-mines and, remarkably, is rich in wildlife.
Sixth and most powerful nuclear test
On Saturday September 3rd North Korea tested a hydrogen bomb.
CIA’s hit-list
Also on this list was the former leader of Libya Muammar Gaddafi due to his sponsorship of international terrorism. In 1986, President Reagan authorised an air strike on Gaddafi’s compound in the hope that he would be in the building.
Marginalised or killed any rivals
In 2013 Kim purged his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, who had also been a “key policy adviser” to the leader. He was abruptly accused of being a counter-revolutionary before being executed by firing squad. And earlier this year Kim’s half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, was mysteriously killed at Kuala Lumpur airport.
First world war
The war started when Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist.


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