April 13, 2017

"Let's stop calling North Korea 'crazy' and understand their motives."

Writes Isaac Stone Fish — a senior fellow at the Asia Society’s Center on US-China Relations —in The Guardian.
Kim’s desire for deterrence – to not end up like Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi – helps explain the existence of its weapons program. Someone who has participated in more than a decade of Track 2 dialogues with the North Koreans once recounted to me how North Koreans asked them: “Would the Americans have gone in and done what they did to Gaddaffi, and to Syria, if they had what we have?"...

Besides deterrence and allowing Kim to show he is a strong leader domestically, what explains the provocations? One possible theory is that the more dangerous it presents itself, the more it can milk from countries like China and especially South Korea – who are more incentivized than the United States to have a calmer Pyongyang....

China provides a market, and access to the rest of the financial world, but South Korea provides the cash. If Seoul decides to again gift Kim or other members of the elite hundreds of millions of dollars – a not unlikely outcome – that takes the bite out of sanctions....

51 comments:

Steve said...

"Their" motives?

We are not really talking about the motives of whole country or whole government, but rather one man. This sort of thinking over the last few decades has now put North Korea on the verge of becoming a nuclear power.



traditionalguy said...

It sounds strange to us, but North Korea wants most of all to rule slaves and enjoy killing them. And that is not our problem until they start to expand their boundaries to steal more lives.

Bob Ellison said...

Far more efficient to call NoKo crazy. It's got a crazy young man whose only credential is to have inherited the personality cult his crafty, crazy grandfather first created. It has a populace battered into submission over decades. It remains at war with its phenomenally successful compatriots to the south.

Saddam and Ghaddafi were less crazy. Assad is less crazy.

"Understand their motives"-- this is what think-tank people do to justify their paying jobs as experts of the kind that thought the Soviet Union was here to stay, Maoism was unstoppable, and Hitler could abide by peace agreements. Understanding is not useful. Crazy people respond more readily to force than to psychology, and force is easier to apply and understand.

Jupiter said...

"Let's stop calling North Korea 'crazy' and understand their motives."

Works for Muslim terrorists too!

Sebastian said...

But the problem is not NK but China, which can shut them/him down.

Of course, we should also have developed the ability to decapitate the NK regime long ago -- and perhaps we have. We should be in a position where NK "motives" matter less.

Short of a direct attack, we should put increased pressure on China and SK, as we have begun to do. But a "solution" will be messy and costly regardless.

Fernandinande said...

"Not crazy" as in psychopaths aren't delusional. That "Juche" nonsense is crazy, but, being psychopaths, they probably don't believe what they say about it.

The truly delusional-crazy people are the ones who cooperated with the psychopaths' extortion schemes.

Lance said...

We are not really talking about the motives of whole country or whole government, but rather one man.

Nonsense. One man doesn't stay in power without a lot of help. And it's not just the soldiers that support him, it's also the soldiers' parents, siblings, cousins, etc.

Darrell said...

I remember the good old days when the Clintons would just give him nuclear capability.

St. George said...

Why did Jefferson Davis want slaves? He had a logical reason, by the lights of his own interests. That doesn't mean the Union army should not have laid waste to the South.

It seems quite clear that Trump has decided his predecessors were fools (or worse) and has decided to stop wasting time. From here on out, our psyops people will massage everyone's minds and perhaps we'll somehow trick N. Korea into shooting first.

exiledonmainstreet said...

Nonsense. One man doesn't stay in power without a lot of help. And it's not just the soldiers that support him, it's also the soldiers' parents, siblings, cousins, etc.

4/13/17, 8:46 AM

I suspect what was done in Communist Romania is done in NK - give the soldiers and their families more rations, special perks and so on, thus creating a loyal military which has an interest in maintaining the status quo.

That's one thing leftists here don't seem to get. They wish to rule over us, yet go out of their way to insult the police and military. Smarter Commies know you can't have a police state if the police aren't on your side.

madAsHell said...

Isaac Stone Fish?

I'm thinking our hostess has been trolled.

David said...

Ok, he has political motives. But that does not mean he isn't crazy. You have to be Batshit Insane to think it's a good idea to get into a nuclear war with the United States. or even get near to one, which might cause China to invade to avoid the Americans doing so.

The man is threatening attack of our county and our allies with nuclear weapons. Whether he is crazy or not, we have to assume that he means it, and act accordingly. Bush and Obama could get away with kicking this problem down the road. Trump can not, because they are close (or have achieved) to building a deliverable nuclear weapon.

It does not matter whether he is crazy. What matters is the threat, and he can't retract the threat, except by destroying his nuclear capacity. That he seems very unlikely to do.

William said...

Was the Rev. Jones crazy? I get the sense that whatever happens in cults is happening in North Korea. Psycho cult leaders generally come to bad ends. The possession of nuclear weapons will not indefinitely forestall a bad end for the Kim dynasty, but it can serve to make that end infinitely more catastrophic.

mockturtle said...

Utter nonsense! Kim has been tugging at our metaphorical coattails for at least a decade trying to get us to take him and his regime seriously. Thinking he has big brother China to back him up, he can taunt to his heart's content. Maybe he doesn't realize how quickly Li Keqiang will throw him under the bus.

Bob Boyd said...

Fish has a point, especially in the case of Gaddafi, who gave up his nuclear ambitions and his support of terror activities, largely came to heel, then we destroyed him anyway.
What kind of message does that send?

AlbertAnonymous said...

If we just gave these people jobs... they wouldn't want to kill us.

TestTube said...

I agree with the headline -- but the article tiptoes around the core fact:

Kim is a ruthless dictator, who, should he show the slightest weakness, will immediately transition to a new career as a corpse.

He looks cuddly and silly in his fat body and funny haircut, but he had close relatives, friends, and former lovers executed in grisly fashion for ostensibly shallow reasons, but really to demonstrate that he has no problem killing anyone for any reason.

But ruthlessness is only one side of the coin. He has to deliver the loot -- food subsidies, fawning praise and deference, and so on -- from foreign nations, if he wants himself and anyone he may care for to stay alive.

Probably a significant amount of ego. Being a god is pretty addictive, I would imagine, even if it is god of some crummy little backwards country.

Kim doesn't have too much time to think long term. A little, but not much. He is doing what works, and what gets rewarded. Not a lot of wiggle room to try new models of governance.

AprilApple said...

Kim has built more prisons than his father, and they are stuffed with citizens. These are people who want to escape, or who were caught speaking out against the regime. They are beaten, and so is the rest of the family. Everyone lives in fear. The citizenry are not all brain washed - they know they cannot step out of line.

It's what modern progressive dream of.

Ron Winkleheimer said...

Who is this "we" he speaks of. I don't think Kim is crazy. I think he is a ruthless sociopath who does whatever he has to to stay in power.

Reports from people stupid enough to go to NK and then get arrested and actually manage to survive and be repatriated are that the treatment in custody is so horrific that they tried to suicide to escape it.

Brando said...

They're not crazy. Volatile by design, perhaps, and possibly unstable politically, but they are playing their only cards quite well. We don't have any good options there, and that is in part due to NK's efforts.

Balfegor said...

I have to say I am terribly nervous about the situation in Korea right now. Right now, as in the next month. Because right now, there is a significant possibility that Moon Jae-In is going to be elected President in May, and once that happens, I don't think there's any possibility of maintaining operational secrecy around any strike (because he will leak to his friends in North Korea). Ahn Cheol-soo has been rising in the polls, but he's not dominating (it looks like it's 50-50 between him and Moon, last I checked) so the risk is still substantial.

Ergo, if the US and China are going to strike, I think they have to strike in the next few weeks. If they don't, and Moon is elected, I think we would have to conceal any plans from our "allies" in South Korea. Because of the KATUSAs, maybe we couldn't even include US troops in Korea in the loop? It just becomes very very difficult if Moon is elected. We cannot trust him.

buwaya said...

Balfegor is correct about SK politics, that is an overlooked aspect of all this, and it shouldnt be. SK has a self-destructive strain and the populace (not unique to SK) is very prone to hysterical over-reactions.

khesanh0802 said...
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khesanh0802 said...

Balfegor's comments are enlightening, but I think that Japan plays a larger part in this equation than SK. As Vizzini said:" never get in a land war in Asia". We really aren't prepared to defend SK against an all out attack. I don't think there is a real NK intent to attack SK, but then, of course, neither did McArthur.

The real threat is missiles fired at Japan. The NK have already proven that they have that capability. The best strategy to contain NK is to surround it with effective anti- missile defenses so it is, in effect, neutered. I think we would be foolish to strike at NK. From what little I understand their nuke facilities are hardened beyond anything but a nuke itself. NK is a "position" that is not worth the price of seizing/destroying. It needs to be neutralized and allowed to starve to death while we move on to more important issues with China.

Trumpit said...

In deference to the insight of embattled Sean Spicer, Kim Jong Un (KJU) is another Hitler. He should have been stopped before it got to this point. The only viable option left is to nuke the son of a bitch before he gets ICBM's and nukes us. Imagine if Hitler had not persecuted the Jews, his Jewish scientists might have developed the A-bomb before we did. Then, he might have won WWII. Killing KJU and wiping his military and regime from the face of the earth is a necessity to save humanity.

wildswan said...

Understanding Korean motives:
"Gimmie, gimmie, my name is Kimmie."

Understanding US strategy on Korea:
"No."

And then?

Fernandinande said...

"Crazy this" and "psychopath that", but the result is that North Korea does not have problems with automobile traffic.

readering said...

I believe he wants to reunify the peninsula under his rule.

exhelodrvr1 said...

One of the determining factors is, what do they think will happen if Kim is assassinated? Will the military reflexively attack South Korea? The artillery (as others have noted on this blog) is a bigger threat than the missiles, because it's harder to neutralize.

Balfegor said...

Re: Exhelodrv1:

One of the determining factors is, what do they think will happen if Kim is assassinated? Will the military reflexively attack South Korea? The artillery (as others have noted on this blog) is a bigger threat than the missiles, because it's harder to neutralize.

I think the key question is how he is assassinated. If he's assassinated by a cruise missile, how will they know whether that's a decapitation strike as prelude to invasion? If they think it might be, wouldn't their automatic response be to fire at Seoul, and launch whatever missiles they can at the US carrier group (and Japan, maybe China too)? I don't think there's any way for us to signal credibly that the an assassination by bomb or missile really is just an assassination, not preparation for invasion.

If he's strangled in his bathtub by his favourite wrestler or something, though, then they might have a different calculus. They'd probably cover it up at first.

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JPS said...

I was going to offer some insight, for whatever it's worth, but Vimax above is a pretty tough act to follow.

Tinderbox said...

Oh please. NK was developing its weapons program long before Saddam and Qadaffi met their fates.

Balfegor said...

Re: Tinderbox:

Oh please. NK was developing its weapons program long before Saddam and Qadaffi met their fates.

Yes, Saddam has nothing to do with it. The relevance of Gaddafi isn't that he was developing nukes -- it's that after Saddam was deposed, he disclosed the existence of his nuclear program and worked with the US and other Western powers to dismantle it.

Then we turned around and backed a pack of savages who killed him.

North Korea isn't looking to Saddam and Gaddafi for inspiration for starting a nuclear weapons program. They're looking specifically to Gaddafi for a lesson about the risks of trusting the United States when you end your nuclear weapons program. In other words, having seen what we did to Gaddafi, they are much, much, much less likely to be willing to disarm voluntarily.

buwaya said...

" If they think it might be, wouldn't their automatic response be to fire at Seoul, and launch whatever missiles they can at the US carrier group (and Japan, maybe China too)? "

This depends on how irrational the remaining leadership is. Their best bet under such circumstances is to negotiate golden retirements, or a deal to serve as Chinese satraps. Attacking would be suicidal.
They may well be entirely irrational of course, its probably impossible to say.

exhelodrvr1 said...

Balfegor,
I think that is what we are trying to determine.

exiledonmainstreet said...

Fernandinande said...
"Crazy this" and "psychopath that", but the result is that North Korea does not have problems with automobile traffic.

4/13/17, 11:29 AM

I'll bet they can see the stars and constellations very clearly at night, given this:
http://www.bing.com/images/search?view=detailV2&ccid=Kc8XIiLT&id=7602EFB9B159B2188CFA5A4CCA9FBEAE8019169A&q=north+korea+blackout+at+night&simid=608055190293121163&selectedIndex=0&ajaxhist=0

It's a great comfort, I'm sure, to stargraze after the evening meal of grass soup.

mockturtle said...
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Sammy Finkelman said...

Deterrence isn't the reason for the bomb and missile program.

Dreams of conquest are the reason.

North Korea has deterred an invasion or an overthrow for many years - this is wearing it away.

Sammy Finkelman said...

4/13/17, 12:17 PM

If he's assassinated by a cruise missile, how will they know whether that's a decapitation strike as prelude to invasion?

Who is the "they?"

If they think it might be, wouldn't their automatic response be to fire at Seoul, and launch whatever missiles they can at the US carrier group (and Japan, maybe China too)?

Only if that's what the standing orders are. The military won''t do anything on their own. Take them out of the book, and they stop.

I don't think there's any way for us to signal credibly that the an assassination by bomb or missile really is just an assassination, not preparation for invasion.

No, you can inform China.

JaimeRoberto said...

As Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Knowing your enemy doesn't mean you have to sit around the campfire singing Kumbayah. You get to know him so you can defeat him, preferably without a fight.

Balfegor said...

Re: Sammy Finkelman:

Who is the "they?"

Midlevel and senior officers in the North Korean army (i.e. the ones who would launch an invasion of ROK or order retaliatory missile strikes against US assets)

Only if that's what the standing orders are. The military won''t do anything on their own. Take them out of the book, and they stop.

I don't have a lot of confidence that those aren't the standing orders. I mean, I assume they don't care if their country burns to the ground if they're already dead, so wouldn't standing orders be that if you find out High Command has been attacked and has gone silent, all the invasion and retaliation plans come into play?

To the contrary, the whole point of wondering how we can signal that a missile strike is really just an assassination, not an invasion is precisely so that officers will disobey their presumed standing orders, calculating that their chances of survival are better if they stay put than if they defend the Fatherland against foreign aggressors.

No, you can inform China.

Yeah, China is not the decision-making process I'm most worried about. It's the officers manning the DPRK artillery and missile launchers aimed at Seoul, and whoever is in command of the ballistic missile and nuclear weapons bunkers in North Korea. I am pretty sure China does not have a direct line to the officers in the field (if they have, they, ah, they have some explaining to do). And -- given the recent deterioration in relations between China and the DPRK -- I don't know that the people they have a line to are even in positions of influence anymore. See, e.g. Jang Song-taek.

Balfegor said...

"I mean, I assume they don't care if their country burns to the ground if they're already dead"

Sorry, "they" here is the senior DPRK leadership, not midlevel officers in the army. I had another sentence in there and deleted it, but forgot about the pronoun.

mockturtle said...

As Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Sun tzu's military philosophy is as sound today as it was in 300 BC. I was happy to hear that Mattis favors him over Clausewitz. Not that Clausewitz should be ignored. The Art of War remains a classic of ongoing value. And you know you have to study it because your enemy does.

The Godfather said...

We (i.e., me and other Americans and western Europeans who were alive at the time) lived through four decades with nuclear weapons pointed at us. It wasn't comfortable, but we got by. I assume we could do the same if the Norks get Nukes.

Mutually assured destruction worked with the US and USSR. The real problem is: Maybe that won't be work with North Korea, and they will actually use their Nukes against us. Doesn't seem likely, but . . . .

The best thing from our point of view would be a coup against Kim. There's little likelihood that the US could arrange such a coup, but I bet China could.

Do you remember James Clavell, the author of a lot of popular novels set in Asia? Shogun, Tai-Pan, King Rat, etc. He claimed to understand Asia and Asians (he spent WWII in a Japanese POW camp), and he said that our big mistake in Korea was not going to the Chinese first and asking them to discipline the unruly North Koreans. I don't find that argument all that persuasive, but it might be worth a try this time.

The Godfather said...

BTW in case it wasn't clear from the context, Clavell was talking about the Korean War.

cubanbob said...

Next time the Norks launch a missile, shoot it down. A weapon that cant be delivered to its target is of no value. Worse, it make you a target to the more capable enemy. The lesson won't be lost on the missileers and their commanders as well as other in the neighborhood.

Leave it to Hillary and Obama to have fucked this up. When Bush took out Saddam Hussein Qaddafi got the message. He became much better behaved. Then Obama had to take him out showing it doesn't pay to cooperate with the Americans. A lesson not lost of Fat boy Kim. Fatty also noticed how his dad played Bill Clinton and Madeline Allbright and was able to develop their atomic bomb. Now we have this problem in Syria again thanks to that idiot Obama with his empty threats.

Kevin said...

“Would the Americans have gone in and done what they did to Gaddaffi, and to Syria, if they had what we have?"

I guess Kim is about to find out.

buwaya said...

"Next time the Norks launch a missile, shoot it down. "

The danger of launching interceptors, especially there, is that the largest interested parties in your ABM systems (Russia, China) will be able to observe the performance of your interceptors and associated electronic emissions.

J. Farmer said...

@Steve:

"Their" motives?

We are not really talking about the motives of whole country or whole government, but rather one man. This sort of thinking over the last few decades has now put North Korea on the verge of becoming a nuclear power.


That is not exactly true. Yes, Kim Jon-un is the single most important and significant political player in North Korea, but his power is not absolute. Like Iran's so called "Supreme Leader" or the "absolutist" monarchs of 17th and 18th century Europe, Kim's power is checked by other elements within the regime, particularly members of the military and of his extended family, who would be the most likely successors in a coup situation. Political purges and executions over (usually trumped up) charges of corruption have been used as Kim attempts to consolidate his power over the state apparatus.

@Sebastian:

But the problem is not NK but China, which can shut them/him down.

If China could shut them down, they would have done so by now. China does see benefit the good relations with the regime. First and foremost, it is a buffer state against South Korean and American military forces being deployed directly on their border. Also, China understands that absent tight domestic control over that country, they would have a huge problem with refugees and economic migrants pouring across the border. China prefers instability on the peninsula above all else.

China recognizes that North Korea's nuclear program is a source of tension in the region and would prefer they give it up. But China has limited options in influencing the regime's behavior. They have recently resorted to basically a sanctions-type response by refusing to import any more North Korean coal, which accounts for nearly one-third of all of North Korea's exports. Unfortunately, the regime has obviously placed a high priority on developing its nuclear weapon program, and it is willing to pay a heft price for this. It is already one of the most economically isolated countries on the planet.

Belligerence and talk of regime change from the US is likely to be counterproductive. It's most likely effect is to make the regime fear for its survival and convince them that a nuclear weapon deterrent was their only defense against invasion or attack. The US should work with the countries in the regime to dissuade North Korea from further weaponizing, but if such efforts failed, it would not be a catastrophe. We could likely contain North Korea.

There is no evidence that North Korea would initiate a nuclear first strike. It would gain nothing from such an attack and would be destroyed by the counter response.

aritai said...

Hmm. could it be The Trump Doctrine is strategic ambiguity plus "Make Money Not War" Reunify, the Koreas, Chinas and South China Sea, Philippines, India and Pakistan, even NATO isn’t it time to make peace with Russia? We have. , all those that hang onto our skirts, problems colonialism, the Brits, French or we caused. Vietnam, either solve your own problems or we'll withdraw our funding, even better fund your competitors. In return we expect you to stamp out all the WMD. Including the 3 Kettle variety, which means your crazies have to go with them. And all these countries want to be together or retreat to a more sane time before WW2. Sorry South Korea you’ve worked so hard yet all the resources are in the North, and you’ve made us such Siamese twins we can’t untangle if we go to war, so the time is now. We can’t deal with the world wide Trillion Dollar costs of extortion and groveling to make our people believe the big lie. Everyone has some form of WMDs, nukes or 3 Kettle horrors made in Baby Formula trailers. And worse bio made in a university bio class. Time to grow up. Russia is a business competitor as are the two Chinas and SK and Japan. Want to put that at risk? Plus this is causing us Trillions to fund the swamp, why? Just to make Senator McCain and his defense contractors happy? Trillions we have to borrow from China, who because of this we’ve already lost WW3 to, and they know it too. And as the most persecuted people on earth, we’re so lucky that they long ago believed in their soul that make money not war was the only way to prosper.