One of the things that gets lost in the incessant media coverage of escalating tensions in the Korean Peninsula is that this isn’t new.
That’s not to say it isn’t newsworthy or that there isn’t a real threat here. But do note that Trump is playing right into Pyongyang’s hands with all the tweets and “looking for trouble” soundbites.
That is, “yes” Donald Trump, Kim is “looking for trouble.” But not real trouble. Just enough trouble to help him perpetuate the myth that his country matters on the world stage.
Kim isn’t going to nuke anyone. And he isn’t going to be sending sarin-tipped missiles to Japan either. If I end up being wrong about that, it will only be by accident. All you’re seeing out of Pyongyang is the same old publicity stunts we’ve been seeing for as long as anyone cares to remember.
This is a rogue state that’s cut off from the world. The only way Kim can keep the masses pacified is by engineering drama that makes it appear as though North Korea matters on the world stage. Thus, by playing along, Trump is inadvertently lending credence to a regime that quite frankly has exactly zero credibility of any kind in terms of doing anything other than saber-rattling for the sake of saber-rattling. The more he responds, the more plausible Pyongyang’s propaganda message becomes. Kim gets to tell The North Korean people the following: “See, this eternal struggle against the US is real. I matter. And so do you.”
But that of course is a lie. He doesn’t matter. And sadly, neither do his people. Until Donald Trump came along, nobody except Seoul gave a shit one way or another about what Kim said on any given day. It just didn’t matter.
Along these same lines, I’m fairly certain that most people reading these Trump/Kim headlines are getting a false impression in terms of the extent to which recent events represent some break with historical precedent. Simply put: this happens all the time.
Have a look at this tweet from this week and my response:
Following that exchange, CNBC went ahead and wrote an article about “surging” South Korea CDS. And they weren’t the only ones.
Here’s what I was trying to tell them. Yes, the recent move looks notable:
Until you back up a bit:
There are two lessons there. One is this: “no, CNBC (and everyone else), South Korea CDS is not ‘surging'” – or at least not in a historical context.
The second point relates to that red circle I drew around August/September 2015. Recalling the events that transpired during the timeframe is a good way to get some perspective on how absurd the situation truly is over there. Does anyone remember what the “problem” was in August 2015? Well let me remind you via Bloomberg:
North and South Korea exchanged fire across the demilitarized zone between the two countries in one of the worst incidents since 2010, sparking fears that hostilities will worsen.
The incident started when North Korea fired a rocket at a South Korean border area, prompting Seoul’s forces to reply with an artillery barrage. It was unclear whether there were any casualties.
Tensions have flared in recent weeks across the so-called DMZ that bisects the Korean peninsula. Two South Korean soldiers were maimed on Aug. 4 by land mines that the Seoul government says were recently laid by North Korea. Pyongyang denied any role in the blasts.
Relations deteriorated further when South Korea started blaring propaganda at the North through loudspeakers along the DMZ. After today’s exchange, North Korea threatened to “start a military action” unless South Korea stops all propaganda broadcasts and withdraws the loudspeakers within 48 hours.
In short, someone stepped on a land mine, someone else fired some rockets, South Korea dusted off the propaganda loudspeakers and began “blaring” anti-Pyongyang messages across the DMZ, and then North Korea started taking pot shots at those loudspeakers. If you want to talk about CDS, that was a bigger deal than what you’re seeing now, as you can clearly see reflected where the red circle is in the second chart above.
That brings us to Friday morning, which finds Kim reveling in the fact that Donald Trump is making his fantasy a reality. To wit:
- N.KOREA SAYS WILL CONDUCT NUCLEAR TEST WHEN HQ SEES FIT: AP
- N.KOREA: TRUMP IS ‘MAKING TROUBLE’ WITH ‘AGGRESSIVE’ TWEETS
- N.KOREA SAYS ‘WE WILL GO TO WAR’ IF U.S. CHOOSES TO PROVOKE: AP
This plays right into the narrative Kim feeds to the North Korean masses to make them believe in this absurd fantasy that Pyongyang is locked in an epic struggle with Washington, which Kim hilariously described last year as “a gang of cruel robbers.”
So that’s some perspective on this situation which I hope you’ll find useful.
And while it’s always possible that someone could miscalculate and render my assessment tragically wrong (that is, this could accidentally end up turning into an open conflict), I would ask you to watch the following propaganda video released by Pyongyang a couple of years ago and ask yourself how “serious” and “grave” a threat this really is…