North Korea Isn’t To Be Feared Because It’s Powerless
North Korea is a totalitarian state that consistently fails to meet the basic needs of its 23 million people. The United Nations World Food Program says 70% of the North’s citizens did not have enough food to eat in 2016. An estimated 25% of the North’s children are physically stunted. The country ranks 213 out of 230 countries in GDP per capita. The North does have a 1.2-million-man military; but an International Institute of Security Studies report found that the North’s conventional forces rely on “increasingly obsolete equipment, with little evidence of widespread modernization.” In other words, their equipment is old. For these reasons, similar to ISIS, I do not fear North Korea.
I repeat, North Korea is a very small, impoverished country that is actually one of the poorest countries in the world. That can not be stressed enough. For this reason, as Jean Lee has stated, the leader of North Korea, from Kim Il-Sung onward, has always made keeping the country intact a priority. What that means for Kim Jong-un is showing his people that he is able to defend them, and that he’s got these nuclear weapons that can not only threaten the world’s largest superpower, but perhaps eventually bring them what they want.
Lee further explains how we have to remember that even though, in our heads, the Korean War ended more than 60 years ago, according to North Korean ideology, it’s still going on. In many countries that are at war, the threat of an outside force does really serve to bring the people together. It does build a sense of nationalism and unity. What they want is to have a missile launch or a nuclear test to show off to their people, to show them they’re a strong nation.
Trump Is The Problem With North Korea
The Korean peninsula has been in a state of war for 67 years, so the rhetoric is nothing new. However, what’s different this year is Donald Trump. North Korea is pretty predictable, in a certain sense. They’re often characterized as unpredictable, but there is a pattern to Kim Jong-un’s behavior. What’s unpredictable is Donald Trump. The fact that he had approved the dropping of the bomb on Afghanistan and the air strike on Syria just before all of this tension certainly had people nervous.
Philip W. Yun is executive director of Ploughshares Fund, a San Francisco security and peace foundation. He previously served as a senior advisor to two U.S. coordinators for North Korea at the Department of State. He highlights the words of former Secretary of Defense William Perry who said, “We must take North Korea as it is, not as we wish it to be.” While this is often interpreted to mean we shouldn’t expect the country to comply with international standards (it won’t), it also means that we can’t view North Korea as a super-villain.
The North Korean government is not suicidal. It knows that, in a large-scale confrontation with South Korea and the U.S., the North Korean leadership and the country itself would cease to exist. North Korea is a desperately poor country led by a desperately misguided regime. The threat North Korea poses is serious, but not an imminent one to the U.S. homeland unless the U.S. has an unstable actor as Commander in Chief.