Magazine | July 30, 2018, Issue


(KCNA via Reuters)

Would Kim Jong-un Invade South Korea?

In “Kim Wins in Singapore” (July 9), Nicholas Eberstadt does a great job dismantling and criticizing American policy toward North Korea over the past 30 years, but I couldn’t quite get past his making the same mistake he accuses U.S. diplomats of making. Mr. Eberstadt seems confident in his evaluation that the Kim regime’s ultimate goal is to annex South Korea. He bases this analysis mainly on the propaganda of the North Korean regime, which it goes without saying shouldn’t be trusted on these matters.

The main problem I find with Mr. Eberstadt’s assertion is that it is rather hard to believe that a regime so clearly concerned with self-preservation that has so masterfully played global powers is so unaware of how suicidal such a move would be for the Kim dynasty. It seems more plausible that the North Korean regime has purposely portrayed itself as hell-bent on war in order to keep potential invaders from attacking. That is why its actions seem to form a pattern of aggression and negotiation. The regime goes to negotiation when in need of aid or when tension is too high but otherwise shows open hostility. It isn’t exactly the cycle of a regime with any goal other than self-preservation in sight.

Mr. Eberstadt dismisses this by pointing to the possibility that the regime will sell its weapons of mass destruction to other regimes, writing that no country would produce such an arsenal for mere self-defense, but I’d argue that this is a part of North Korea’s strategy of portraying itself as a war-desiring state with a mad dictator and then arming itself with such powerful weapons as to ensure that foreign powers won’t toy with it.

Either way, there should not be so much faith put into Kim’s word, either by the president on Kim’s intention to denuclearize or by Mr. Eberstadt on Kim’s “intention” to annex the South. Other than that, Mr. Eberstadt wrote a great article analyzing the failures of U.S. policy toward the rogue state.

Jack Wells
Albuquerque, N.M.


Nicholas Eberstadt responds: Let me thank Jack Wells for his kind words and focus on our point of dispute: my contention that the Kim-family regime is intent on unconditional reunification — forced annexation of the South. 

He would like to dismiss or ignore three generations of North Korean propaganda to that effect as mere words. But what about North Korean actions

Pyongyang invaded the South in 1950 and was thwarted from forcible annexation only by a U.S.-led international intervention. In the 1960s, North Korean commandos invaded Seoul and attempted to kill the South’s president. The Kim-family regime attempted to assassinate the South’s president in the 1970s, and then again in the 1980s.

To this day, North Korea is the most militarized society on earth — and its huge conventional army is forward-deployed: positioned for attack, not defense. To this day, the only “South Korean” delegation permitted in Pyongyang is the “Anti-Imperialist National Defense Front”, an imaginary group of supposed South Korean dissidents who wish to overthrow the Republic of Korea and reunite the South unconditionally with the North. And to this day, the DPRK constitution designates “reunification of the country” as “the supreme national task” and calls for “carry[ing] the revolutionary cause of juche through to completion.”

Forget the propaganda, then: How are we to interpret all this other evidence?

NR Editors includes members of the editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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