To the passive news recipient, it seems like North Korea has lost its marbles and is on a one-way path to self-destruction, taunting the world with military threats and just begging for the US to bring it some good ol' "democracy."
Kim Jong Un is justified in viewing the US as a threat, but the problem is that his comparative lack of experience has mixed with his position of supreme power to create a destabilizing combination where well-intentioned but naïvely thought-out responses are unwittingly undermining Russia and China.
Into The Mind
It’s useful to objectively analyze Kim Jong Un’s leadership style and personal psyche in order to gain a better understanding of what drives the North Korean leader’s actions. This approach isn’t novel in any way, but is just another application of the common practice that’s regularly undertaken by the world’s intelligence agencies.
The purpose of the exercise is to peer into the mind of a key decision maker and identify what makes them tick, with the practice being most pertinent in centrally administered systems where major policies are decided by only a handful of people. Since Kim Jong Un is the undisputed supreme leader of North Korea, the art of leadership analysis is more relevant towards him than anyone else.
For the sake of brevity, there’s only enough time to touch upon the most significant international and personal factors that impact his decision making. North Korea is still technically in a state of war with the US, so unprecedentedly large-scale joint military exercises between Washington and Seoul, especially those which partially aim to simulate “beheading missions” or “decapitation strikes” against him personally, are rightly interpreted as a serious and provocative threat. On top of that, the US has a track record of destroying countries that don’t have the military-strategic means to adequately defend themselves, such as non-WMD Iraq and Libya. For these defensive reasons, Kim Jong Un retains his country’s nuclear and missile programs and flexes them at appropriate times to deter realistic threats.
On an individual level, Kim Jong Un is a very young leader and has scant prior experience with any sort of administrative responsibilities. In the dark world of North Korean politics, he’s forced to prove his worth and solidify his position as his father’s political heir, knowing that there are likely certain party and military figures that are offended that a young man such as himself surpassed them all to become the country’s top figure. This political (and physical) survival imperative compels him to act forcefully and speak toughly, but his youthful temperament and apparent distrust of most senior advisors mean that his actions aren’t always wisely nor efficiently undertaken. Kim Jong Un’s irresistible urge to flamboyantly prove himself in the face of his aggressors while simultaneously thumping his chest as the alpha male of his country is a glaring psychological vulnerability that the US has identified and is actively exploiting.
The Geopolitics Of “Containment”
To put the current tensions into a broader context, the US is waging a New Cold War against Russia, China, and one could even include Iran into this mix, whereby it’s maneuvering its strategic capabilities in Europe, East & Southeast Asia, and the Mideast in order to “contain” each of these Great Powers respectively and tighten the unipolar noose around Eurasia. The US is less physically aggressive against Iran nowadays because it’s prioritizing a long-term and ‘soft’ approach to regime change there, hoping that an influx of cash and Coca-Cola will help shape the country’s burgeoning youth population into ‘good Westernizers’ that will steadily ‘reform’ their multipolar system from within.
Regarding Russia and China, however, the US has pulled out all the stops in destabilizing and then militarizing their peripheries, ergo the manufactured Ukrainian and South China Sea crises. As geographic ‘luck’ would have it, both countries have overlapping security interests in North Korea, which thus makes it a convenient target of the US’ aforementioned strategy. By provoking Kim Jong Un with nakedly aggressive actions and having already psychoanalyzed how he’s anticipated to react to them, the US can prompt North Korea to respond in such a way that it triggers the Pentagon’s preplanned escalatory counter-response, in this case the prospective deployment of THAAD anti-missile systems to South Korea.
In better comprehending how North Korea forms the perfect strategic wedge between Russia and China, it’s necessary to review the geopolitics behind the US’ ‘containment’ of each in this part of the world. From north to south, the US is colliding with them along an expansive arc that stretches through the following geographic theaters and frozen conflicts:
Russia: Arctic Ocean, Kuril Islands, North Korea
China: North Korea, Taiwan, South China Sea
As can be seen, North Korea is the southernmost security concern along Russia’s eastern periphery just as it’s the northernmost one along China’s, thus confirming the strategic ‘interlocking’ role that it plays in bringing together the two countries’ grand interests. Correspondingly, it follows that the insertion of destabilizing American influence in or around North Korea, such as the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea, would equally and just as adversely impact on each of these Great Power’s security, which explains why it’s viewed as a major strategic threat to each of them.
Extrapolating further and recalling what was written at the beginning of the article, Kim Jong Un’s predicable reactions to American aggression which unwittingly ‘justify’ the US’ preplanned and escalatory moves are thus also seen as a danger to the existing strategic balance in Northeast Asia. After all, if the North Korean leader didn’t take the ‘bait’ and go overboard with his responses, then the US would have a lot more difficulty convincing the South Korean public of the need for something as provocative as THAAD, which, it must be reminded, directly puts them in Russia and China’s crosshairs in the event that a disastrous state hostilities breaks out between their countries and the US.
Well-Intentioned But Naïve
To return back to the article’s thematic question, North Korea’s testing of nuclear and missile capabilities doesn’t make it “crazy”, but it does make it irresponsible in the grander scheme of things. Like was earlier written, North Korea has concrete security reasons for why it would want to flaunt its deterrent capabilities, but unwittingly, Kim Jong Un’s muscle flexing is feeding into the US’ prearranged scenario of strategic escalation against Russia and China in Northeast Asia.
He knows these actions, however justified they may be from a self-defense perspective, run counter to UN Security Council resolutions and will put his Russian and Chinese partners in a tough diplomatic position, yet he still does them anyhow without any regard to their larger interests.
Kim Jong Un might be drunk with naiveté in thinking that he and the few advisors that he listens to know more about global geopolitics than Presidents Putin and Xi do with their inarguably more experienced diplomatic crews, but whether he realizes it or not, the US is playing him like a fiddle and using his foreseeable reactions to advance its preplanned anti-missile containment strategy against Russia and China.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.