North Korea keeps warning that it’s ready to test devastating weapons. Sometimes the warnings include a threat against South Korea or the United States. As George Friedman points out, it doesn’t seem to make sense to develop a weapons system in public: “If the test fails, you look weak. If it succeeds, you look dangerous without actually having a deliverable weapon.And the closer you come to having a weapon, the more likely someone is to attack you so you don’t succeed in actually getting one. Developing a weapon in absolute secret would seem to make more sense. When the weapon is ready, you display it, and you have something solid to threaten enemies with.”

But North Korea’s tricks work:

“North Korea is estimated to have a gross domestic product of about $28 billion, about the same as Latvia or Turkmenistan. Yet it has maneuvered itself into a situation where the United States, Japan, China, Russia and South Korea have sat down with it at the negotiating tablein a bid to persuade it not to build weapons. Sometimes, the great powers give North Korea money and food to persuade it not to develop weapons. It sometimes agrees to a halt, but then resumes its nuclear activities. It never completes a weapon, but it frequently threatens to test one.”

In Friedman’s view, North Korea has a three-pronged strategy, which is working so far: “First, the North Koreans positioned themselves as ferocious by appearing to have, or to be on the verge of having, devastating power. Second, they positioned themselves as being weak such that no matter how ferocious they are, there would be no point in pushing them because they are going to collapse anyway. And third, they positioned themselves as crazy, meaning pushing them would be dangerous since they were liable to engage in the greatest risks imaginable at the slightest provocation.”

The North Korean diplomatic strategy has its own genius: “When you are playing a weak hand, such a strategy can yield demonstrable benefits. It preserves regimes, centers one as a major international player and can wring concessions out of major powers.” It’s not foolproof: “It can be pushed too far, however, when the fear of ferocity and craziness undermines the solace your opponents find in your weakness.”

More on: News

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

Loading...