Will the DPRK Strike?

Ayear ago this month the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) vowed to “reduce all the rat-like groups [in the Republic of Korea] … to ashes in three or four minutes … by unprecedented peculiar means and methods….” In response to this, South Korean (ROK) officials urged the DPRK “to immediately stop” the practice of issuing threats. Such threats, they said, only serve to increase tensions. But, of course, that is the North Korean game. The DPRK issues threats to increase tensions in order to receive payment for agreeing to decrease tensions later on. It is a very simple system of extortion, and it was once effective. Only now, the threatened parties are not responding with cash. Instead, they have been responding with their own military moves. This sudden change from appeasement to exasperation has led to a crisis.

Last Thursday the DPRK issued an official statement blaming “the U.S. imperialists” for violating the sovereignty of the DPRK. As the situation was “extremely grave,” Marshal Kim Jong Un, “brilliant commander of Mt. Paektu, convened an urgent operational meeting on the performance of … the Strategic Rocket Forces of the Korean People’s Army … to ratify a firepower strike plan.” Marshal Kim had reportedly declared a “do-or-die battle … for putting an end to the history of the long-standing showdown with the U.S. and opening a new era.” The decision, quite naturally, reflected “the strong will of the army and the people of the DPRK to annihilate the enemy.” According to the statement, DPRK servicemen were “surging with anger” against the many reckless imperialist provocations – which include: making B-52 sorties into South Korean airspace; and flying B-2A stealth strategic bombers and other strike craft from the U.S. mainland to Korea as part of a bombing drill. “This is an unpardonable and heinous provocation and an open challenge,” noted the official DPRK statement. “By taking advantage of the U.S. reckless campaign for a nuclear war against the DPRK, the south Korean puppets vociferated about ‘preemptive attack’ and ‘strong counter-action’ … openly revealing their threat to destroy symbolic monuments to the dignity of the DPRK’s supreme leadership.”

Presenting itself as a parody of wild-eyed paranoia, and epitomizing the projection of the DPRK’s own hostile intentions, Pyongyang further accused the United States of “brigandish ambition for aggression” and also accused the South Korean “puppets” of attempting to invade the DPRK. Consequently, “their threats have entered the reckless phase of an actual war from the phase of threat and blackmail.” Therefore it was right and just, according to the DPRK statement, “that the Supreme Command of the KPA [Korean People’s Army] … made the decision to decisively settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists and south Korean puppets by dint of the arms of Military-First politics (So’ngun), because the time when words could work has passed.”

It must be admitted that the DPRK statement doesn’t sound like a blackmail threat. It sounds more like the statement of someone who has swallowed a lifetime of distorted propaganda about the United States and “the south Korean puppets.” In truth, the DPRK statement comes from a deluded leader who is so crazy (by the standards of the outside world) that intelligent observers are left shaking their heads. For what country in the whole history of the world has ever presented an official statement of this kind?

Consider the following section of the DPRK statement: “It is the resolute answer of the DPRK and its steadfast stand to counter the nuclear blackmail of the U.S. imperialists with merciless nuclear attack and … all-out war. They should clearly know that in the era of Marshal Kim Jong Un, the greatest-ever commander, all things are different from what they used to be in the past. The hostile forces will clearly realize the iron will, matchless grit and extraordinary mettle of the brilliant commander of Mt. Peaktu that the earth cannot exist without Military-First (So’ngun) Korea. The time has come to stage a do-or-die final battle.”

It should be pointed out that military geniuses don’t issue official statements in which they describe themselves as military geniuses full of “matchless grit and extraordinary mettle.” To make a statement of this kind, when one has never fought a war, is to announce one’s own ignorance and egotistical self-regard. It is, in fact, the confession of a clown with his finger on the nuclear button. Pundits in the U.S. are not alarmed, of course. They are cool and calm, believing that the DPRK won’t do anything to harm its own “self-interest.” Unfortunately, self-interest is in the eye of the beholder. In this regard, one must consider the self-interest of a clown who doesn’t even know he is a clown. Even worse, this clown is surrounded by lackeys who are incapable of forestalling his behavior. For how else can we explain the DPRK statement, which continues thus: “It is self-evident that any military conflict on the Korean Peninsula is bound to lead to an all-out war, a nuclear war…. The first strike of the revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK will blow up the U.S. bases for aggression on its mainland in the Pacific operational theatres including Hawaii and Guam and reduce not only its military bases in south Korea but the puppets’ ruling institutions….”

Psychological projection is not some academic myth, but a very real affliction – the same affliction that led Hitler to blame the Jews for starting World War II. In the same sense Kim Jong Un blames the United States for World War III. He believes the United States is an “imperialist aggressor.” Therefore, in the present context, he is not bluffing. He is telling us what he actually thinks.

Officials in the U.S. government seem to appreciate Kim’s actual state of mind. They have studied the DPRK statement and know they are dealing with a deluded person. It is now the aim of U.S. policy to react slowly and coolly to the Korean situation. Specifically, the United States is backing off harsh statements and obvious military demonstrations. This is not to be mistaken for appeasement. It is a more careful policy of avoiding an unnecessary conflict when tensions are at a fever pitch. It is in the best tradition of peace-making, provided it does not return to the policy of sending more cash to the failed regime in Pyongyang.

And yes, the situation is dangerous precisely because the DPRK is a failed state in possession of nuclear weapons. Its leader is a megalomaniac surrounded by lackeys who rule over a starving population and a desperately precarious economy. Given this situation, all you need is a border incident. All you need is an artillery engagement in the DMZ. One of a thousand things could go wrong and we could find ourselves in a nuclear war.

In reality, war is not always the product of careful calculation. It is more often the result of accident, miscalculation and misperception. If a major decision-maker is deluded, crazy or stupid, there is a good chance he’ll get himself into a war. And so, we should not be dismissive of the danger.

Jeffrey Nyquist is the President of the Strategic Crisis Center and Distinguished Senior Fellow in Political Science at the Inter-American Institute for Philosophy, Government, and Social Thought.

This article was originally published on Financial Sense on Feb 18, 2011. The opinions published here are those of the writer and are not necessarily endorsed by the Institute.

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