Thursday, April 04, 2013

The Rational Irrationalism of North Korea

North Korea keeps ratcheting up the threat index with pronouncements that they're going to unleash nuclear annihilation against the US and South Korea. The threats are definitely crazy, but I think they've been acting as rational irrationalists. What do I mean by this? It means that they're crazy like a fox and have a definite strategy here. They know from past history that crazy gets the goods. Kim Il Song got the West to give humanitarian aid. Kim Jong Il threatened nuclear war and got aid. Now? Kim Jong Un threatens apocalypse and the endgame is to get aid.

Everyone knows the North Korean economy is in shambles. We know it. South Korea knows it. Even the North Koreans know it. They sacked their Prime Minister and replaced him with a guy who was previously sacked for not getting the economy going. The North wouldn't do that unless things were dire.

About the only thing going for the North right now is that they've got nuclear tech and some intermediate range missiles that might work but aren't necessarily accurate. It's enough of a threat though to be taken seriously, which is why the US, South Koreans, and Japanese are moving in theater missile defense systems and orienting their defensive capabilities accordingly. At the same time, the US/SK/Japanese are moving in assets that could deter what could be the next phase of North Korean saber rattling - a small scale provocation such as sinking a South Korean boat, shelling disputed South Korean islands, or threatening South Korean fishermen.

The North has been thoroughly indoctrinated by the Kim clan to consider the US to be equivalent of the Soviets in Red Dawn. Evil that must be thwarted from worldwide supremacy and to protect the honor of the homeland. All that changes is instead of shouting Wolverines!, the North is shouting Juche!

What we take to be defensive action, like moving in assets to the region in response to North claims of nuclear Armageddon is considered a further threat that North Korean leadership considers is justification for their earlier claims.

Now, are the North really so crazy as to light the Korean peninsula aflame, let alone carry out their nuclear threats? If the North doesn't get what it is demanding, would it be really willing to attack the South?

I definitely see the North restarting their shuttered nuclear program, and it also is a bargaining chip that the North could use in essentially shaking down the west for more aid (which the North will spin as winning and tribute to North Korean success).

I don't think they are willing to launch a full scale conflict, but can the South really take that risk? It's places like Seoul that will be on the front line of a North Korean attack given its proximity to the DMZ. The North might be convinced that they could manage the element of surprise and get in a devastating first blow, but it would only be a matter of time before Western technological superiority demolishes the military the North has (and which is largely stuck in the 1960s both with ground and air assets).

Moreover, the Chinese would probably step in to moderate the North's bellicosity before things go wrong for the North. The Chinese don't want a refugee crisis on their border, which is exactly what would happen if the North goes to war. China has trading relations with the South, and an economic hit to the region would hurt the global economy as well.


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