April 14, 2012

Why North Korea "Madmen" Get Away With It

The Government department’s own Jennifer Lind has penned a piece in Foreign Affairs, on a topic very near and dear to my heart: Why North Korea Gets Away With It.

Most interesting to me is Professor Lind’s discussion of North Korea (DPRK)’s ‘deterrent triad’, primarily the first: “its ‘madman’ image.” Lind describes it as “the idea that the [DPRK] might react to [USA/ROK] retaliation [for their missile tests and other bad behavior] by plunging the peninsula into general war.” Essentially the notion that the DPRK’s cloistered and unaccountable leadership might respond asymmetrically to, say, the ROK shooting down their test missiles with, say, a full ground and missile offensive against ensures that allied countries will never take forceful action against North Korea unless DPRK aggression becomes so great that the Allies are willing to bear the extraordinary cost in blood and treasure of an all out war. When you add in the clandestine support China would give North Korea in such a war, it effectively eliminates any possibility of a “limited war” in the style of the one the US fought on that peninsula more than 50 years ago.

 But the more I study North Korea, the more it becomes clear that its primary national raison d'être is to preserve the survival of its government against its people, more than against neighboring states. As pretty much any documentary about life in North Korea will show (including the Vice Guide below) idolization of the government and deification of its leaders are the defining features of (whatever weirdness can be called) North Korean society.

Random acts of aggression along the Northern Limit Line or continued nuclear enrichment are simply means of (1) threatening neighboring countries just enough that they will not mess with them (thereby freeing up the military for internal purposes) and (2) winning concessions from an international community that routinely rewards bad behavior.

They are looking for food aid. North Korea is starving so much that on average they are growing 3-6 inches shorted than their brothers in the South. And when this is all said and done, we’ll probably give them that aid, which they’ll find useful since the rocket they just crashed into the ocean cost the same as it would to feed 80% of their country for a year.

But they make good dancers:

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:15 PM

    I saw Prof Lind at her lecture for her book "Sorry States" and there Prof Roger Masters tore her a new one. They went back and forth in front of everyone for like ten minutes. It was the first time I ever saw sparks fly between govy professors. Cool story.