It’s popular amongst the media to characterize North Korea as an irrational state run by a madman. North Korea continuously provokes the West, it is said, for no apparent reason. Proof that it’s an unpredictable, irrational actor that could do anything.
There are in fact very few states in history that could actually can be said to have behaved irrationally. I can only think of one state in the twentieth century which fits the description above. That was Germany just before and during the Second World War.
North Korea has in fact behaved quite rationally throughout the past few years. As a pariah state with only one ally, a very weak economy, and the enmity of the world’s superpower – the government of North Korea has to realize a way to protect itself. This is especially true given that said superpower has repeatedly used its military to strike down dictators such as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi who have earned its hostility.
Muammar Gaddafi is an extremely telling example. One unfortunate side-effect of the successful American intervention there is that the intervention has probably permanently ruined any possibility of North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons. Just look at Muammar Gaddafi to see what happens when countries hostile to America give up their nuclear weapons. And in fact, North Korea has done just this. The rational, logical conclusion: the only sure deterrence is nuclear weapons, especially with Seoul and Tokyo as hostages located so conveniently close to North Korea.
The death of Kim Jong-il also explains a lot of North Korea’s recent aggressiveness during the past couple of years. North Korea’s leaders knew that Kim Jong-il’s health was in dire straits after his stroke, and that he was probably going to die very soon. They were thus preparing hastily for his succession. The new leader needed a military accomplishment to add to his belt before entering power. Thus the artillery bombardment of a South Korean island, repeated nuclear tests, and the sinking of a South Korean ship. These were designed to be just enough for the new leader to boast about without actually getting North Korea in any danger of being seriously attacked.
North Korea is not another Nazi Germany. It’s just a very weak, very poor country whose government is trying its best to survive against the might of the world’s superpower.