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North Korea more calculating than crazy

By Julie Bishop - posted Friday, 15 March 2013

North Korea’s government has been described in many ways over the years, with the regime variously regarded as insane, unpredictable and dangerous.

Adding to the mystery is the absolute control the regime exercises over its citizens that has meant a paucity of intelligence about the internal machinations of arguably the most secretive regime in human history.

The level of control appears to be greater than the totalitarian nightmare envisaged in George Orwell’s novel 1984.


It can be assumed that the regime is nevertheless obsessed with its own survival and will not take actions which may provoke an overwhelming military retaliation from outside.

Respected analyst George Friedman wrote recently that the North Korean regime has adopted a strategy of appearing “ferocious, weak and crazy”.

Friedman argues that this combination forms a coherent international strategy that ensures its opponents are loathe to attack or retaliate on the grounds that the regime is either on the verge of collapse or the brink of launching nuclear war.

The crazy rhetoric about nuclear strikes on U.S. cities including Washington are not the ravings of mad men, but are in fact calculated attempts to deepen the impression of the regime as erratic and unpredictable.

Friedman sees this as a calculated attempt to bluff potential aggressors into being cautious because the response could be catastrophic.

North Korea has used these tactics successfully for decades to extract concessions, principally from South Korea and the United States, but also from China and Russia.


When the U.S. and South Korea ran out of patience several years ago, the North Korea regime responded by increasing its level of provocation including the sinking of a South Korean naval ship, the shelling of an island community, a ballistic missile test and a nuclear weapons test.

If the tactic of the regime was to force a return to the negotiating table, it miscalculated badly by overplaying its brinkmanship, for it has now alienated China, its last remaining ally.

China co-authored the most recent round of international sanctions and joined with the other members of the United Nations Security Council to pass the resolution unanimously.

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About the Author

Julie Bishop is the Federal Member for Curtin, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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