“The antics of North Korea’s rulers are a perfect illustration of the principles” Antiwar.com’s Justin Raimondo calls “’libertarian realism,’ i.e. a theory of international relations that attributes the actions of states in the international arena entirely to the internal politics of the actors.”
“Instead of responding to real events abroad,” avers Raimonodo, “policymakers are chiefly concerned with responding to pressures from various lobbyists and domestic power brokers. This is because their one overriding goal is to maintain and expand their own power – a goal the rulers of North Korea share with our own. It doesn’t matter what kind of system we’re talking about: dictatorships, democracies, and everything in between – all foreign policy is determined by internal political conditions, and is only peripherally concerned with what goes on outside of that context. If you wondered how it was possible that US foreign policy has become so disconnected from reality – well, now you know.”
The rhetorical hysteria coming out of North Korea is par for the course: this is, after all, the country’s chief (and only) export. Washington knows full well Pyongyang has neither the means nor the intention to attack the United States, in spite of the comic-opera threats – and yet we’re acting as if the threat is real. In response, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that we’re beefing up our missile defenses on the West Coast – “just in case.” Scheduled US-South Korean military exercises featured nuclear-capable jets “mock bombing” North Korea – a provocation that ignited a sulphurous response from Pyongyang.
The US has stood squarely in the way of all real peace efforts on the Korean peninsula: when it looked as if the South Koreans were taking the prospect of reunification with the North seriously, Washington put the kibosh on the process. Now that the daughter of a former South Korean dictator has been elevated to the South Korean presidency, prospects of a renewal of the initiative are remote. In this context, Washington’s routine provocations have a much bigger effect on the North, which sees itself in an impossible situation. The Hermit Kingdom is poorer, and more isolated than ever, and this has produced the internal dynamics that are driving the actions of the North Korean elite.
Little is known of internal political developments in the North, but the transition from one Supreme Leader to the next is surely problematic in any authoritarian system – and doubly so in a “communist” monarchy. There has long been tension between the ruling Korean Workers Party and the North Korean military, and apparently this ratcheted up to an unusual degree last year with reports of an assassination attempt on Kim Jong Un, culminating in a gun battle in the streets of Pyongyang.
The atmosphere of crisis generated by the North Korean media, and the government’s wildly belligerent pronouncements, in all likelihood have to do with the internal political situation, and bears little if any relation to events outside the country. North Korea’s “military first” policy, which puts military procurement ahead of economic development, has been costly: there are reports of a looming famine this month. As economic conditions worsen, the stability of the regime may be put at risk, in which case Kim Jong Un will need the military to back him up. The recent fall – and sudden rehabilitation – of Gen. Kim Yong Chol, head of the increasingly important Reconnaissance General Bureau, may be a clue to the regime’s murky internal conflicts. Another clue is the position of
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