The fewer scruples a criminal has, the greater his advantage over the prosecution, because the prosecution is bound to the law even when others violate it.

The same asymmetry also exists in the relationship between nations. With its murderous treatment of U.S. student Otto Warmbier, the regime in North Korea has set an example of unscrupulousness and inhumanity that is difficult to outdo.

That is true even in the improbable case that the 22-year-old did “just” fall ill, as Pyongyang claims, because then the patient would have to have been sent home long ago, not just now when even the high-tech medicine at home could no longer help him.

Beyond Any Constitutional Norm

From the outset, the accusations against Warmbier were grotesque; the draconian punishment lay beyond any constitutional norm. The young man was abused, made the object of hate as a representative of his nation.

Out of all of this follows what everyone already knows: North Korea is a “failed state.” Not like other places due to the absence of a government system, but instead on account of its complete boundlessness.

The band of criminals surrounding dictator Kim, of all people, are prompted to question Donald Trump”s qualifications as a leader. After the Assad regime used poisonous gas, the U.S. president set a strategy of military toughness and applied the reasoning of retaliation. Syrians were the victims then. Now – in a gruesome interpretation of Trump’s election slogan – it’s America first.

Incalculable Consequences

It is possible to think that Trump is capable of reacting to this terrible isolated incident as if it were an attack on the entire nation. Here, as with historian Tobias Stone, one might warn of a Franz Ferdinand* moment with incalculable consequences.

Trump hopefully has enough control over his impulses and senses to bear that in mind. And to take into consideration what differentiates him from a criminal.

*Editor’s note: Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, whose assassination in 1914 triggered World War I.