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Why is North Korea doing this?

By Chris Lloyd - posted Monday, 2 October 2017

Many people are wondering how we got to the present stand-off between North Korea and the world, and where it is heading. I have not heard anything from the main stream media or blogs that make sense to me. The key missing element is a plausible account of the motives of North Korea (NK), specifically their leader Kim Jong Un (KJU).

Here is my understanding of the landscape, admittedly based on exclusively western news sources which have been known to systematically deceive us in the past.

Since 1990, NK threatened to produce nuclear weapons, negotiated settlements to suspend their development in exchange for aid, broke the agreements, made new agreements, and broke them as well. They now have nukes, with declared ambitions to deploy them to hit targets several thousand miles away. The regime has been propped up by China, both economically and militarily.


The key question is why NK/KJU would take the recent course of action. There are various explanations that I have seen offered.

(1) They are worried about an invasion. They saw what happened to Iraq and want the ultimate deterrent. Nonsense. Iraq may explain why Iran wanted nukes, but fear of invasion cannot apply to NK. They have 60 years of history to show that the US will not unilaterally violate the 38th parallel. They also know that the US would never attack them except under the most extreme circumstances, because it would mean war with China. NK has absolutely zero reason to worry about invasion – unless it creates those extreme circumstances. Which is exactly what they are doing by threatening to nuke California and firing missiles over Japan.

(2) They want to extort more concessions and money from the West. Nonsense. It is too late for that now. Actually developing the nukes lost them any leverage to extort the west with further agreements about limiting their military ambitions. It must have been clear that this would be the outcome of their continued development. So, the conclusion must be that KJU always intended to finally abandon the twenty-year sequence of diplomatic charades and get deployable nukes.

(3) It is mainly for local patriotic consumption to bolster Kim at home. Nonsense. Kim is in complete control and could easily excite the masses with conventional military posturing and public demagoguery. It is enough that he just tells his deluded people that he is going to get those western bastards who threaten them. There is no need to actually threaten the west with real weapons.

As Sherlock Holmes said: "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth." So, I have wracked my brain for an alternative explanation and I can only come up with one.

KJU wants NK to be a major world player – with KJU as the major world leader at its apex. This makes sense for an extreme Korean nationalist, leading a country that embraces a paranoid race-based nationalism and who was raised to believe he is a superhuman. Indeed, it might be considered an inevitable consequence of his lineage.


He has reason to think he might achieve this because of his strategic importance to China.

China would, in theory at least, support NK being a major nuclear superpower in Asia, since NK is ostensibly an ally but also because the strategic gain of NK would be at the expense of the US. If JKU was part of a stable, reformable communist party, this could work out well for China. But he is not. He is a third generation despot who is happy to assassinate his own brother in an airport.

In the past, China loved the NK situation. They engineered it. They even indirectly provided them nuclear technology via Pakistan. For decades they have used the North Korean threat as leverage for the west to not challenge them. Go soft on the south-China sea or we will not hold back Kim. But that strategic game has now lost its sting. The horse has bolted.

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About the Author

Chris Lloyd has been blogging for Club Troppo since 2006. He is an academic, a professional statistician and a former founding member of the Afro-rock band Musiki Manjaro. He has lived and worked in America, England and Hong Kong and maintains a blog on statistical theory and practice at Fishing in the Bay. The views expressed are the author's own.

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