“The assassination of a political leader is among the highest profile acts of political violence…”1
“Political assassination is the murder of a significant individual by an organised conspiracy in pursuit of political ends.”2
“And the executioner’s face is always well hidden”3
Kim Jong-un, Margaret Thatcher and Donald Trump have used assassination as ‘acts of political violence’ …. ‘in pursuit of political ends’. These extrajudicial murders4 are accepted as part and parcel of statesmanship. Assassination is celebrated whereas ‘murder’ would not be. It is murder and isn’t in a distinctive moral universe. The three politicians employed Machiavelli’s tactic of being ‘cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous, especially in politics’ as a preferred option. Their actions were endorsed by the electorate in the UK and USA. In North Korea’s dictatorship public opinion is irrelevant. If Kim Jong-un is a murderer so are Margaret Thatcher and Donald Trump.
Kim Jong-un, North Korea
The dynastic power struggle that marks North Korean politics led to the assassination of Kim Jong-nam. He was the half-brother of Kim Jong-un and deemed a threat to the dictatorship.
The assassination was a coup de théâtre. Two female dupes pushed cloth into Kim Jong-nam’s face. They’d been told it was a TV ‘prank’. The cloth was actually a murder weapon laced with poison, which killed rapidly.5 The organisers made their getaway leaving the two women at Kuala Lumpa Airport to face the music. They got short jail sentences when their story was believed by Malayasian authorities. They got short sentences and were the only one’s punished.
This looks like state sponsored murder doesn’t it?
Margaret Thatcher, UK
During her period in office the Northern Irish Troubles were all consuming. Many atrocities were committed including the 1984 assassination attempt on Thatcher’s life.6 The near success of this attempt shocked Britain. Thatcher introduced a shoot-to-kill policy shortly afterwards.7
Mission creep shaped future policy. Terrorists were targeted by the heavy use of informants and Loyalist terrorists acting as surrogate assassins. Violence escalated after Brighton. Shoot-to-kill led inexorably to the assassination of three IRA members in Gibraltar, 6th March 1988.8 A Thames Television programme two months later laid bare the conspiracy. All those assassinated were unarmed and shot in the back. British media denounced criticism of the killings as ‘unpatriotic’. Two years later the government removed Thames Television’s licence to operate as a punishment.
Murder on this occasion was seen as entirely right and proper and Thatcher was praised for being decisive. Extrajudicial murder was endorsed as being in the national interest.
Donald Trump, USA
Iran’s regime change ousted the Shah and the incoming religious leaders rejected westernisation promoted by the USA.10 The US embassy in Tehran was besieged from November 1979 to January 1981. This event was interpreted differently in the US and Iran.9 Relationships have been poisoned ever since.
Donald Trump authorised the assassination of Qasem Soleimani on 3rd January, 2020.11 The assassination was perpetrated by drone at Baghdad airport. A further seven people were murdered as ‘collateral’ damage. Western media referred to Soliemani’s assassination as him being ‘killed’. Except for Israel. “The Jerusalem Post [which] has previously reported that Israel’s role in the assassination was far greater than had been revealed.”12 It’s a vivid signal of the military-political relationship between Israel and the USA.
“The assassination of a political leader is among the highest profile acts of political violence…” and when it’s done by missile it’s an even more powerful visual aid. These extrajudicial murders are an absolutely blatant and shameless exercise of power. They’re entirely Machiavellian and entirely amoral.
All three leaders used assassination as policy. All three are guilty of conspiracy to murder. All three remain unpunished in any way whatsoever. Their decisions live in an alternative moral universe and their countries endorse their decisions. State sponsored murder isn’t the ghastly secret of tin-pot dictators, it’s here in western democracies. This means that if the UK claims moral superiority over Belarus, it’s entirely misplaced.13
Addendum: National sovereignty
All three assassinations took place outside the national frontiers of the perpetrators. Malaysia, Gibraltar and Iraq were the location of extrajudicial murder in contempt of international law. Consider this: ‘Iraq launched a Drone based assassination attack on a British general at New York’s JFK airport.’ Only a sense of entitlement prevents the USA from seeing the Soleimani assassination as wildly inappropriate, morally depraved and illegal.
1Iqbal, Zaryab, and Christopher Zorn. “The Political Consequences of Assassination.” The Journal of Conflict Resolution, vol. 52, no. 3, 2008, pp. 385–400. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/27638615. Accessed 21 May 2021. p385
2 BALL, SIMON. “THE ASSASSINATION CULTURE OF IMPERIAL BRITAIN, 1909-1979.” The Historical Journal, vol. 56, no. 1, 2013, pp. 231–256., http://www.jstor.org/stable/23352222. Accessed 21 May 2021. p231
4 What does EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLING mean? (definitions.net) For a short introduction to Machiavelli see Niccolo Machiavelli | Beliefs, Books, The Prince, Philosophy, Accomplishments, & Facts | Britannica
9 For details see Iran hostage crisis – Wikipedia
11 Qasem Soleimani: US kills top Iranian general in Baghdad air strike – BBC News NB The BBC used the word ‘killed’ as opposed to the more accurate ‘murdered’ or the even more accurate ‘assassinated’. CNN, the Sun and Reddit also used ‘killed’.