Kim Il Sung’s 100th birthday would have been this week — April 15, officially. As part of the celebration, the current regime launched a rocket into space. Or, they attempted to. The three-stage rocket broke up into four pieces and fell into the ocean.
The buildup to the launch scared a lot of people. The rocket was supposed to put a satellite into orbit that could have been used to spy on North Korea’s enemies. Worse, North Korea’s two previous rocket launches were accompanied by nuclear tests shortly thereafter. That means the regime is likely trying to figure out a way to launch nuclear weapons across long distances to its enemies, with the U.S. high on the list. Scary stuff for us Americans. Despite the failure, a nuclear test is still entirely possible within the next moth or so.
It isn’t terribly surprising that the launch failed. But even if it succeeded, one shouldn’t be afraid. One reason is that North Korea is poor. They do have the world’s fourth largest army, at well over one million strong. But the country’s population, not taking into account recent famines and defections, is only 23 million.
More to the point, photographs of those one million-plus soldiers show them lacking such basic provisions as socks — this in a country with a climate similar to New England’s. And it’s not just socks that are lacking, but also food. A popular propaganda slogan reads, ‘Let’s eat two meals a day.” Many North Koreans are lucky to eat even that much. This is the potential enemy. Quake in the boots that they don’t have.
Should the worst happen, North Korea is not a formidable opponent. Better, there is little reason why conditions would ever come near to a breaking point.
The reason lies in public choice theory. Everyone knows that people behave in their own self interest. Public choice theorists say that governments do, too. It isn’t rocket science; pardon the expression.
Kim Jong-Un and the rest of North Korea’s elites know full well their technological and strategic disadvantages. And their primary goal isn’t to reunite the Korean peninsula, or to make foreign conquests. What they want is self-preservation.They have it pretty good with their cognac and movie screenings and their three meals a day, and they would like to keep it that way. That’s why they will not launch a nuclear attack.
Self-preservation is also the reason for their recent bellicosity. Kim Jong-Un is brand new to the world stage, and he needs to assert his authority. The best way for him to do that is make a big international display. But displaying is not the same as deployment. Like a peacock, the North Korean regime displays impressively, but it has no teeth.
Again, the regime’s first priority is self-preservation. To start a war — especially a nuclear war — is regime suicide. Its only ally is China, and they are reluctant at best. South Korea has three times the North’s population. Japan has five times as many people. Even if the U.S. doesn’t get involved, and it probably would, the North’s current regime would topple. And the North Korean regime knows that.
Lord knows who would replace the regime should it come to that. The replacements could well be even worse; liberalism is a foreign concept north of the 38th parallel. But the current elites live a relatively cushy life, and they will not endanger that. So don’t be scared. I’m not.
In the meantime, fear for the safety of North Korea’s rocket scientists. Something tells me they’ll end up in Camp 14. That’s North Korea’s equivalent of Kolyma, the harshest camp in the old Soviet gulag. I sincerely hope I’m wrong. But as many as 200,000 people are currently imprisoned in North Korea’s gulag — that’s about one percent of the country’s population.
Right now, as you read these words, scientists are probably being tortured. Please think of them. And don’t fear for your safety. Fear for theirs.