North Korean Leaders - not insane after all
Posted by aogWednesday, 05 February 2003 at 16:02 TrackBack Ping URL
As I think about the North Korean situation, I have become more convinced that, contrary to my earlier assertion, the NK leadership is not insane in the mentally unbalanced sense. Instead they are psychopathic, completely and utterly indifferent to the consequences to anyone but themselves. They are much more so than even Stalin or Saddam Hussein. You can see this in the insularity of the NK leadership. Both Stalin and Saddam saw themselves as world players. The opinions of others mattered to them. Stalin wanted to compete and beat the West. Saddam wants to be a modern Caliph. The NK leadership, in contrast, cares nothing for anyone's opinion outside of their leadership cadre. I believe that the personality cult is a completely cynical effort by the NK leadership which is valued purely for its ability to maintain the regime. This insularity makes North Korea a much tougher problem than Iraq or the Soviet Union because there aren't any points of engagement. The NK leadership is ok with running just North Korea so they have no need to justify any of their actions to any one outside of North Korea. The Soviets had to at least make propaganda efforts and Saddam has to try to mollify the other Arab states but Kim Jong Il doesn't need to convince any external group of the rightness of his cause.

The real question is how accurate is the view that North Korea requires outside aid to survive. There's lots of evidence both ways. Even the amount of aid and support provided by China is disputed. It's hard to point to any concrete evidence that North Korea is externally dependent. The regime has survived millions of deaths from starvation and the cutoff of a lot of aid from both the US and China. Except, the NK regime's recent actions are hard to explain without the assumption of a regime that's in deep trouble. How much does the NK leadership understand it's own situation? It's not clear if anyone knows how close the regime is to collapse. I've tried to avoid criticizing the Bush administration's approach because there isn't any policy I can think of that's better without entailing massive risks. I think it's clear that invading Iraq is the much lower risk policy than not doing so. I find no such clarity for North Korea, except that appeasement as practiced by Clinton and Carter is clearly the Wrong Choice.

P.S. What are the other options?

  • Containment, which seems to be the Bush policy
  • Invasion
  • Surgical strikes on nuclear facilities
  • Psyops, such as direct aid to encourage refugees or insertion of solar/hand powered radios
  • The China card, via convert pressure or support for a nuclear armed Japan / South Korea
Pick a hand and take your chances. Millions of lives are the stakes.