Kim Jong-un, Crazy or Wily?

By A. G. Moore 12/8/2013

Panorama or Pyongyang, North Korea
Photo by Nicor Uploaded from Wikimedia Commons
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Is Kim Jong-un crazy, as many in Western media are inclined to suggest? Maybe he is–crazy like a fox. With Dennis Rodman, and other as yet undisclosed former NBA players, heading to North Korea, observers scratch their heads at Kim Jong-un’s behavior. The diminuative despot from a small country would be dismissed if it were not for the fact that he presents a grave danger to his neighbors, and to others far beyond North Korea’s borders. So nobody treats casually the tiny tyrant who has access to nuclear weapons. The strength of his nuclear leverage is something Kim Jong-un understands all too well.

In light of this geopolitical reality, getting nukes out of North Korea is not going to happen any time soon. Using traditional diplomatic tools to “reason” with the Korean dictator is pointless. Easing sanctions, opening communications–none of it is persuasive to Kim. Each of these approaches assumes that Kim cares what happens to his people, that somehow his fortunes rest on the well being of the body politic. Experience shows this is not the case.

North Korea is isolated. Its people have been conditioned to revere their leader (see a description of Juche and its emphasis on the importance of the Supreme Leader at The Political Philosophy of Juche, from Stanford University). Defectors from the country, who would likely be critical of the regime–confirm that Kim enjoys support from his people. And the Supreme Leader is not likely to feel pangs of conscience. He was born into his position of authority and rules with a sense of innate privilege. Like any hereditary autocrat, Kim believes that his personal well-being is paramount .

Jung executed his former girlfriend, purged his uncle from government and executed the uncle’s associates  (see Henry VIII, Josef Stalin, Mao Tse-tung–and many, many others for examples). The North Korean people starve as their Leader spurns overtures from the West.

While many describe the Korean dictator’s policies as irrational, what these people really mean is that they can’t control the ruler. And that’s scary. All the measures taken to seduce North Korea, and possibly tame the Lilliputian bully, meet with failure. This is not a reflection of Kim’s mental incapacity; it’s a reflection of his survival instinct. Without nuclear weapons, without isolation and iron control, Kim’s government will eventually fall.

I guess it’s fun to characterize the North Korean regime as “mad”  and its leader as irrational. We tend to joke about things that make us nervous. But Kim Jong-un is no laughing matter. And if we allow political analysts to set us at ease by persuading us that a fool rules the north end of the Korean Peninsula, then we’re the fools. Kim Jong-un is a significant threat and he is deadly serious about insuring his own survival. Nothin’ crazy about that.

For further reading, the following sites have some interesting information:



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