North Korean Aggression: A Possible Explanation

North Korean Aggression: A Possible Explanation

Stevie LaFerriere, Writer

On March 11, 2013 a spokesperson for the North Korean military announced that the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War in 1953 is being “scrapped.” As the month came to a close, North Korea cut its military hotline with South Korea, and on April 10, a U.S. official claims that another North Korean missile test could be “imminent.” This nation, slightly smaller than Mississippi, yet reportedly populated with 24.72 million citizens and equipped with the fifth-largest military force of any in the world, appears to be venturing towards increased belligerence, yet this notion has been challenged by Tim Sullivan, an author for the Associated Press who claims that the nation may simply be sticking with the same vocal approach that has worked for decades.

According to Sullivan, tenderfoot Kim Jong Un may be speaking in a continuation of his father’s diplomatic strategy: threatening the world in such a way that demands its help. The international community has responded to North Korea’s “cycles of threats and belligerence” with billions of dollars in aid and efforts to mollify its relationship with South Korea. In other words, the world is North Korea’s enabler, and they have no reason to change thus far.

Christopher Voss, a weathered FBI hostage negotiator and currently the CEO of the Black Swan Group, interviewed by Sullivan, sympathizes with this theory. “You keep playing the game as long as it works. From their perspective, why should they evolve from this? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Voss presses that while it may make no sense from the outside, it makes absolute on the inside, especially when you specifically consider how this method has worked for them in the past.

In the early 1990’s, North Korea called early quits on a nuclear weapons program when presented with an offer of five $5 billion in fuel and two nuclear reactors. Later in the decade, North Korea launched a suspected missile over Japan and sent a submarine through South Korean waters. This substantially promoted their diplomatic efforts, as the first Inter-Korean Summit took place in June, 2013 (and the Sunshine Policy was effectively passed). In 2006, North Korea engaged in yet another nuclear weapons test, but was again rewarded with a great deal of aid and a number of political concessions. The pattern of these past two decades is almost rhythmic: once every five years, North Korea threatens the world, meets for negotiation, and its demands are met. Is North Korea really as unpredictable as it has made itself sound? Perhaps not.

Sullivan suggests that North Korea is “leveraging the international community’s fear of unpredictability to magnify its power,” which he argues could be backed by the fact that North Korea has not yet fallen like so many of the other dictatorships that have been overthrown since the demise of the Soviet Union. This self-bolstering enthusiasm may also be implemented to raise the morale of an impoverished and isolated populace, who live miserably, often starve, but have not yet risen in revolt. Besides xenophobic propaganda, intense press censorship, and a clean-cut single party system, doesn’t popular belief that Kim Jong Un is “the great, brilliant commander… leading the world’s most powerful country” calm a nation’s nerves? Is the latest member of the Kim family trying to prove himself? Peter Hayes, head of the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability, claims that, whatever the case, Kim Jong Un is “playing many different games at many different levels at the same time.”

From the inside, it’s logical, but a greater question remains: is it sustainable?