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Irrational generals in Pyongyang?

April 16, 2013

Whatever anyone says about North Korea and its leaders and its policy, remember: No one understands the country. Unfortunately, that means no one can predict what the leaders will do in a certain situation. So, that applies to what I write, too.

But even if you do not understand there are certain things you must not do. The less you know about the other side, the less provocative you should be.

Three years ago, shortly before my second – and latest – trip to DPRK I had a talk with an international diplomat from Pyongyang.

Diplomat: Our military leaders are dangerous. They think they can win the war.
Me: Win the war? Do they think they can take over South Korea? The Americans will never accept that!
Diplomat: I agree, but they do not understand the world, do not understand the strength of the USA or even of  South Korea.  They read no international newspapers, they have not been abroad. They think they can bomb the US bases in South Korea and in Japan, and then  take over all Korea.
Me: But the USA can retaliate from nuclear submarines or from the USA, and make your country into gravel and ashes.
Diplomat. Right. I know. They do not. They think they can use the nukes to deter the Americans.

I believe the diplomat, whom we had met several times before, was serious. He was worried.

What goes on today in DPRK?  There are threats of attacking the USA, the armistice is abandoned, trade relations are broken, there is talk about restarting the plutonium producing reactor and the light water reactor in Youngbon and to speed up the uranium enrichment.

Dr Siegfried Hecker, former head of the Los Alamos labs, who has made many trips to DPRK, saw at his visit to Youngbon almost two years ago that the old plutonium producing reactor was to a large extent dismantled and would take long to get in working condition.  A light water reactor is not a good producer of plutonium for weapons, and of course they would not use their hard won enriched uranium for a light water reactor.  Besides, they found that the plutonium bombs did not work reliably, and will probably stick to the simple, reliable uranium bombs.

So these are probably empty threats. But why are they made? Addressed to whom? Do the generals try to show that they are most daring, the strongest believer in the teachings of the Eternal President, trying to impress the new, inexperienced leader?

Difficult to say. I refuse to believe that the leaders, generals and politicians, are completely irrational, out of touch with reality. But mistakes can be made, very costly mistakes.

For this reason the USA should not give the generals reason to escalate. If the DPRK leaders are rational, they know that their military resources are indeed very small compared to USA or even South Korea. If they are completely irrational, suicidal, they certainly want provocations and will respond to them.

The ongoing military maneuvers and the threatening exercises by ROK and the USA are dangerous and should go with repeated assurances: We will defend our ally if attacked but have no intention to attack DPRK.

And, President Obama, to say that all options are on the table, to pretend that nuclear weapons might be used by the USA, is always illegal.

One Comment
  1. April 16, 2013 2:35 am

    So what can you DO? Just sign the damn thing! and what can you DO? Sign the petition:

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