Ten Misperceptions about North Korea

By Dunn, Michael M. | Military Review, September/October 2005 | Go to article overview

Ten Misperceptions about North Korea


Dunn, Michael M., Military Review


In July 2005, after a 13-month boycott, North Korea returned to the 6-nation multilateral talks on nuclear disarmament. Was its return just the latest in a long series of diplomatic feints and frauds, or was it an honest move to engage in earnest dialog? Citing North Korean secretiveness and eccentricity, many experts claim it is almost impossible to know the country's true intentions. Dunn, President of the National Defense University and a former lead negotiator at Panmunjom, disagrees. He offers the following "10 misperceptions " to demystify North Korea and expose its aims.-Editor

1. North Korea is run by a government.

The country is actually run by a brutal dictator and his close personal friends and family. The measure of one's stature in the "government" is how loyal one is to the "Dear Leader." A better way to refer to the "North Korean (NK) Government" is to call it the Kim Family Regime (KFR), which operates more along the lines of an organized crime family.

2. North Korea's economy has failed.

North Korea has a plantation economy-or better said-a slave economy. This is an economy where the elite live in the "big house" and the slaves live on starvation wages to produce the goodies consumed by the elite. Last year the NK economy produced about $1 billion hard currency. It could have used $200 million of this to feed its population. Instead it spent $100 million on Mercedes Benzes, imported wine and cognac, and French china for the elite, and relied on the world to give it free food-70 percent of which went to the NK Army.

3. North Korea needs nuclear weapons because _______ (fill in the blank).

In reality, North Korea has never foresworn its objective of reuniting the Korean peninsula. It does not want nuclear weapons for bargaining tools, to gain leverage, or any of tens of other reasons listed by pundits. It wants them to be able to respond or fight to achieve its military objectives. It will not "negotiate away" these weapons.

4. North Korea just wants to talk.

North Korea has not kept any of its agreements. Within 72 hours after it signed the Armistice Agreement, North Korea broke it. KFR uses negotiations as a lever to secure long-term objectives. Negotiations are part of the NK information operations (IO) campaign. Interestingly, because of Kim Dae Jung's Sunshine Policy, that IO campaign has succeeded in swaying Republic of Korea (ROK) public opinion toward North Korea, running the risk of dividing the ROK-U. S. alliance.

5. North Korea is a closed society, and we do not know what its leaders are thinking.

North Korea is a communist society that must "pelt" its population with the party's line. Its leaders use information to build a powerful image of the State and to glorify themselves. North Koreans believe in the holy trinity with the Father being Kim Il Sung, the Son being Kim Chong Il, and the Holy Spirit being the juche (self reliance) philosophy. North Korea frequently tells us what they are planning-as long as one understands the "coded" language in which they speak. North Korea's press announcements are beyond the bounds of normal decency, referring to various ROK-U.S. leaders as bastards, cannibals, criminals, stooges, militants, and puppets. They use adjectives such as imperialist, babbling, fascist, murderous, war mongering, colonial, and perfidious.

6. Events occur randomly inside the North Korean structure.

Random events, while possible, seldom occur in North Korea. The KFR choreographs almost every move. Military rehearsals have occurred before each major provocation. North Korean negotiators always come with large sheaves of papers and respond to our points with prepared talking points. We have indications that discipline is ironclad, each event is wargamed, and all important actions are approved at the top of the regime.

7. The KFR is changing and is willing to change. …

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