North Korea Acting Out — Again

North Korea Acting Out — Again

Posted on April 9th, 2012 in Blog, Top Picks

North Korea stands ready to launch a long-range missile amid reports of an impending underground test of their nuclear capabilities.  Should we care?

There are always two audiences for North Korea’s actions, internal and external:

First, Kim Jong Un, the new leader, has a need to appear strong.  The place is a basket case in economics, politics, civil society… the only thing holding it together is the idea that the leader is infallible and all-powerful.  So the cult-like image must be built and maintained, and what better way than through a missile launch and a nuclear weapons test?  This in and of itself is not a huge threat because it is propaganda for internal consumption.  The North Korean Army doesn’t want conflict, they want dinner.  So the appetite for actual aggression is low, and that tends to reduce fears about what they do.

Second, however, is the external realm.  They want to be taken seriously, consider themselves the center of the universe and demand international respect – as well as food aid and freebies from the international community.  So this is a show of strength

The more worrisome aspect is their role in proliferating nuclear technology.  That is where the real threat to the international community lies.  The Middle East right now is awash with billionaires that are of radical religious bent.  One of them could surely bribe their way into some weapons technology transfer out of North Korea.

Bottom line: North Korea acts like a spoiled child and, unfortunately, one with nuclear weapons.  Don’t need to over-react to the missile tests or even a nuclear test because it is mostly for show, a flexing of muscles.  But we do have to keep an eye on them simply because by intent or accident something bad could happen – and because the real issue has long been and continues to be the risk that someone there – with or without official blessing – decides to sell technology and even production materials to unknown buyers in the outside world.