National Security & Defense

Waking Up to North Korea’s Growing Threat

It may see the U.S. as distracted by Obama's goal of reaching a nuclear accord with Iran.

In many ways North Korea has the psychology of a spoiled child. But where a child throws tantrums, North Korea threatens to throw nuclear weapons. Incidents from the past few years, whether artillery strikes or torpedo attacks, demonstrate its continuing strategy of brinkmanship.

North Korea attempts to use perceptions of its own irrationality to extract concessions. That truth makes today’s assault on Mark Lippert, the U.S. ambassador to Seoul, a wakeup call for the United States.

While the assailant doesn’t appear to have acted under direct orders from the North, North Korea’s reaction has been telling. Kim Jong-un’s government praised the incident (video footage shows its ferocity) as a “knife shower of justice” and “just punishment for U.S. warmongers.” Yet the attacker’s claims that he acted in protest of ongoing U.S.–South Korean military exercises is also key, because those annual exercises, known as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, are a perpetual cause of fury from the North.

In recent days, North Korean media have warned of looming war. For this reason, U.S. and South Korean intelligence services will work to establish whether North Korea has links to the attacker.

Nevertheless, the present situation is especially precarious because of North Korea’s perception that the U.S. is distracted. As I noted last week, across the planet, the U.S. currently has just one carrier strike group on deployment. The USS George Washington, Seventh Fleet carrier (responsible for North Korea), is on diplomatic reception duty and will shortly return to the United States for upgrades. And while the U.S. has a few destroyers participating in the exercises, George Washington’s absence is noticed in North Korea. That isn’t good. North Korea has always sensed opportunity in U.S. absence. And today, witnessing the Obama administration’s obsession with reaching an Iranian nuclear accord, North Korea may feel it can roll the dice.

While some deride the importance of power-perception dynamics in international relations, the reality is that President Obama’s foreign policy is feeding the aggression of U.S. adversaries and degrading the confidence of U.S. allies. Correspondingly, with Kim Jong-un still cementing his base of power in Pyongyang, the regime is especially unpredictable.

Moreover, we mustn’t ignore the fundamental nature of the North Korean regime. Ultimately, North Korea is the Oceania of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: introverted and paranoid, just with less food and smaller televisions. And North Korea’s food challenge has strategic ramifications. As the nation faces critical crop shortages this year, experience suggests that the regime is becoming more likely to use threats of conflict to extort food from the international community.

President Obama must be alert to this strategic environment. For a start, he must bolster America’s deterrent posture on the Korean peninsula. And he must ensure that Kim Jong-un understands that his view reaches beyond Iran. When it comes to the North, the stakes are always enriched. We cannot afford to send a signal of weakness.

Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at TRogan@McLaughlin.com

Most Popular

Elections

Trouble in the Workers’ Paradise

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is precisely the sort of campaign surrogate you want, especially if you are Bernie Sanders: She is young, energetic, charismatic, popular (with the people she needs to be popular with, anyway), and, happily, currently ineligible to run for the presidency ... Read More
Elections

Trouble in the Workers’ Paradise

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is precisely the sort of campaign surrogate you want, especially if you are Bernie Sanders: She is young, energetic, charismatic, popular (with the people she needs to be popular with, anyway), and, happily, currently ineligible to run for the presidency ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Bill Barr Derangement Syndrome

Can the republic survive Attorney General William Barr? That’s the question that has seized the media and center-left, which have worked themselves into a full-blown panic over an attorney general who is, inarguably, a serious legal figure and one of the adults in the room late in President Trump’s first ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Bill Barr Derangement Syndrome

Can the republic survive Attorney General William Barr? That’s the question that has seized the media and center-left, which have worked themselves into a full-blown panic over an attorney general who is, inarguably, a serious legal figure and one of the adults in the room late in President Trump’s first ... Read More
Law & the Courts

The Roger Stone Double Standard

Whether Roger Stone, the loopy, self-aggrandizing political operative, deserves nine years in Supermax for obstructing an investigation into Russia–Donald Trump “collusion” is debatable. Whether the powerful men who helped create the investigation that ensnared Stone have been allowed to lie with impunity ... Read More
Law & the Courts

The Roger Stone Double Standard

Whether Roger Stone, the loopy, self-aggrandizing political operative, deserves nine years in Supermax for obstructing an investigation into Russia–Donald Trump “collusion” is debatable. Whether the powerful men who helped create the investigation that ensnared Stone have been allowed to lie with impunity ... Read More
Elections

RIP Bloomberg 2020

I thought that Bloomberg’s confused half-defense of stop-and-frisk was going to be his low point. Well. His torturous response on his lawsuits and NDAs was truly awful -- beyond incompetent. I wouldn’t be surprised if this were the end of Bloomberg 2020. Read More
Elections

RIP Bloomberg 2020

I thought that Bloomberg’s confused half-defense of stop-and-frisk was going to be his low point. Well. His torturous response on his lawsuits and NDAs was truly awful -- beyond incompetent. I wouldn’t be surprised if this were the end of Bloomberg 2020. Read More