12 Aug 2017

What is Kim’s Strategy?


Slate interviews B.R. Myers, a regional expert, about what North Korea is really trying to accomplish with all the saber-rattling and provocations.

The stars are aligning very nicely for the strategy [Kim Jong-Un] inherited from his father. Just as North Korea is perfecting its nuclear weaponry, China has acquired the economic power to punish South Korea for improving its missile defenses. Opinion polls in the South now strongly favor the left-wing presidential candidate Mun Jae-in, who in 2011 expressed hope for the speedy realization of a North–South confederation. If he or anyone else from the nationalist left takes over, years of South Korean accommodation of the North will ensue, complete with massive unconditional aid.

This went on under George W. Bush, and the alliance survived. Donald Trump, however, is much less likely to allow an ostensible ally to subvert UN sanctions while paying tributary visits to Pyongyang. And Kim Jong-un knows this. He knows that whatever security guarantees Trump gave to Seoul were made to the current conservative administration only. So Kim Jong-un has a better chance than his father did of pressuring the alliance to a breaking point. With China’s support he can pull a left-wing South Korean administration in one way while pushing the Americans in another.

Having lived in South Korea for the past 15 years, I don’t share most Americans’ confidence that it will always choose America over a North-supporting China. My own impression—bolstered by the ongoing controversy surrounding the stationing of the THAAD missile defense system—is that a growing number of South Koreans would rather see their state’s security compromised than risk their own prosperity.

Let’s not overestimate South Koreans’ attachment to their own state, which a sizable but influential minority still considers illegitimate. The most popular movie in Seoul at the moment is a thriller about a joint North–South effort to catch a criminal ring of North Korean defectors. That plot tells you something right there. The main North Korean character is played for cool by a handsome Tom Cruise type, while his South Korean counterpart is a homely, tired-looking figure of fun. There is a tradition of this sort of casting. The subtext: Serving the North is glamorous; serving the South, not so much. Let’s keep in mind that Kim Jong-un is watching these movies too.

[W]e must stop focusing on short-term shifts and nuances in North Korean propaganda and instead grasp the fundamental consistency its ideology has maintained since 1945. We have to take that ideology seriously, however absurd the personality cult may seem. To a radical Korean nationalist, the division of the nation, the race, is an intolerable state of affairs. So too is the continued presence of the foreign army that effected that division in the first place.

Were Kim Jong-un to share our own leader’s love of slogan caps, his would read: Make Korea Whole Again. Unification is not just central to the North’s ideology, but the only sure and lasting solution to its security problem. That makes the nuclear crisis all that more difficult to solve. But we will never get anywhere if we don’t face up to the true and frightening nature of the North’s goals. For decades our politicians and cartoonists have mocked North Korean leaders as squalling babies who wave missiles around just to get our attention. We’re the ones who need to grow up.


5 Feedbacks on "What is Kim’s Strategy?"

Soren K

Not advocating here, just posing a question. What would a consolidated Korea look like? Would economic giants such as Samsung and Hyundai fade either under internal Korean governance, or perhaps external sanctions now extending to the “South”? Would any weakening of these global tech and industry companies play out with an increase in American wealth and jobs as an American administration embraces a protectionist economic view? Would it ‘make America Great Again?”

JK Brown

For the last 64 years, especially the last 24, those in DC have tried the same strategy over and over with North Korea hoping for different results. Trump is doing something different. Which ones are crazy?

bob sykes

Well, Moon (or Mun) is President of South Korea, and Myer’s scenario may yet play out.

I must say a confederation of North and South never occurred to me, but in retrospect it makes sense and offers a way out of the current impass. China will always insist that the state on the Yalu be a Chinese ally.

Every single commentator I have heard on TV or read on the web [e.g., Gen. Keane (Ret.)] has assumed that if war breaks out both China and Russia will sit it out and that we will quickly crush the North. I believe these assumptions are delusional in the extreme and are the product of our military’s besotted obsession with Wonder Weapons (historical reference) and Magical Thinking.

Any attack on the North will immediately lead to an invasion of the South. The North need only seize Seoul intact, with its inhabitants, to force a settlement favorable to the North (and China). This can be done in a few days. Moon will gladly settle, and the South Korean population will support him to avoid further destruction and bloodshed.

Maggie's Farm

Monday morning links

‘Wind River’ Is A Criminally Underrated Film Vanderleun:   I’m a believer because… well because I’ve really got Nothing. Better. To. Do.  It’s a shame that in this brief Grace-granted glimpse of the Immense Light between a s


How very ladylike to obsess over the question of “hmmmm….I wonder what he really meant by that?” How about we just take people and what they say at face value until enough misunderstandings teach people to just say what they mean and mean what they say? Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we didn’t have to spend so much time trying to guess what somebody means by their plain language?


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