North Korea: just rhetoric?

24 July 2010

A weird and unpredictable country

North Korea must be counted as one of the most peculiar states that currently exist in the world. It has nuclear weapons, but its people are starving. Anyway, ever since the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel, tensions in the Korean Peninsula have been going up and up. The US and South Korean forces are conducting military exercises this weekend to show the North Koreans that they are taking the threats seriously.

Reminiscent of rhetorical flourishes beloved by the totalitarian regimes of the right and the left in the twentieth century, North Koreans have been talking darkly about retaliations, including the use of nuclear weaponry, and a sacred war. What is it with these regimes to go for the most extreme language?

They can’t be serious! Or are they?

It would be too easy to dismiss such grandiose words of aggression as merely words, devoid of any real threat behind them. These brave words are for domestic consumption, and the people of North Korea do not have access to alternative sources of information other than what the government feeds them, so the regime can concoct a ‘victory’ even when nothing happens. That is true, yet I’m not too optimistic. Sometimes people and states can corner themselves into doing things very unwise, because they have talked themselves into a position, which is impossible to escape without humiliation or violence.

There aren’t many signs pointing towards lessening of the crisis situation in public. Perhaps the diplomats are working hard behind the scenes. If not, something small somewhere insignificant can trigger a pretty scary war.