09.11.2017 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

Will ‘Ignorance’ Become the Reason for a War on the Korean Peninsula?


Although the trends leading to the aggravation have not altogether disappeared, the absence of new missile tests or ambitious statements is perceived by the mass consciousness as a certain relax of tension.

However, the author would like to use this pause to once again illuminate on the non-obvious reasons that may influence further dynamics in an unfavourable way.

In the previous materials, the author wrote more than once on ‘demonization’, which significantly narrows room for manoeuvre, creates a negative image of the opponent, and prevents retreating; or that the admission of the nuclear status of the DPRK significantly changes the global security structure, destroying both the system of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and the authority of the UN, encouraging those interested to maintain the status quo to do it, even at the price of the regional conflict.

However, these two groups of reasons increasing the chances of a military solution to the North Korean problem are supplemented by one more that is less obvious, but no less profound.

This concerns mutual ‘ignorance’.

In English, this is known as ‘misinformation’, as, in practice, the parties do not engage in deliberate acts of misinforming each other.

However, relating to North Korea as perceived by a considerable part of the American analysts, as well as in the perception of image of the United States by experts from the DPRK there are very high level of distortions and illusions.

Illusions that make the image of the enemy created significantly different from the real North Korea and the USA.

The important thing is this is more than just the use of certain ideological clichés.

The usual situation presupposes that there is a propaganda image for mass consciousness and a real image for decision-makers, and also for experts and analysts.

And here, there is the impression that those who essentially should not trust these propaganda myths start believing in them.

And this is extremely dangerous.

Let us turn to the past.

Back in time, Stalin and Mao approved the beginning of the Korean war, basing on the information provided by Pak Heon-yeong (the second person in command of the DPRK at that time and the head of communists in the South), that the scale of the resistance to the Syngman Rhee’s regime was so strong that it would be enough just to begin and the South Korean state would immediately collapse. Whether Pak Heon-yeong was intentionally engaged in an act of misinformation or if he was honestly mistaken does not matter. The reality is that his predictions did not come true, and the price of this delusion turned to be incredibly bloody.

And now let us put ourselves on the place of an American military who makes risk estimation of a military solution to the North Korean problem.

He has no solid surveillance information which is based on satellite reconnaissance, testimonies of defectors or data obtained from the biased intelligence of South Korea; and therefore gaps in data are filled with beliefs about the regime which have already been created in his mind.

If this belief is that DPRK is the odious, but strong regime which will be able to survive the hostile attack and with high probability counterattack, he will seriously evaluate the risks and perhaps even consider that actual cost of a victory over such enemy will be too high to begin a war.

However if there is an image of the ‘comic State of Evil’ (which, ‘as it is well-known’, is within an inch of collapse) instead of real North Korea in his head, he is capable to come to a conclusion that the preventive strike will not only get the task solved, but will also cause the said collapse and the people will immediately stand to support ‘freedom and democracy’.

As in any comic book or the movie of such type in order to destroy a ‘State of Evil’ it is enough to kill the evil governor and/or to break the main TV, or to tell the mistaking people about delights of democracy.

Besides, let us not forget that “Interview” movie which was initially planned by the American analysts as an ideological diversion for infiltration to North Korea and shaking political stability there creates the same comic image of the country.

It is well known that its screenwriters have specially consulted with CIA and Department of State representatives, regarding, inter alia, which sensitive topics should be touched.

It is not worth saying that if the hypothetical strategist has the distorted image of DPRK, then the probability that he will make reasonably looking, but in real having catastrophic consequences decisions on the basis of the distorted input data, significantly increases.

Garbage in, garbage out.

Let us draw attention on what kind of wording is presented in the discourse of the American and western experts in their discussion on the North Korean crisis.

Their statements keep containing expressions such as “nuclear blackmail”, “unpredictable regime” or “a vicious circle of North Korean provocations” that have nothing to do with real state of things.

Those, arguing that the DPRK has perfidiously violated the Framework Agreement know nothing about its contents or may casually mention that “a million people die of hunger every year in DPRK”, at that.

The arguments that the DPRK is trying to elicit humanitarian aid, or that it is going to occupy South Korea as soon as it accumulates enough strength are perceived as a matter of fact, that is, as so obvious and clear that any suggestion to prove or justify these points lead to either surprise or indignation.

There are several reasons why such a context has developed.

This is due to the crisis of competence, and the reserved anachronistic policy of the North, as well as the prevalence of propaganda clichés; however, this text pays much attention not to the reasons of the current situation, but more to its consequences.

At the same time, there is practically no direct interaction between the parties, not to mention the ‘hot lines’ system or the confidence-building measures present between Moscow and Washington, even despite the high level of current political confrontation.

As a result, both the USA and the DPRK are developing a strategy of interaction with the opponent, proceeding not from the real USA or North Korea, but from the quite comical image that emerged in the heads of their propagandists and spilled over to the analysts as well.

Naturally, this does not contribute to the constructive settlement of the matter.

In such a situation, from the author’s point of view, the ‘clearing of the situation’ is a very important step to reduce the level of tension.

Neither Russia nor China can become the immediate mediator in the settlement of the conflict between North Korea and the United States.

But they have broad opportunities to bring to the leadership of both parties the critical volume of the verified and relevant information that can essentially realign the positions of the decision-makers.

Besides, the politicians and media of our countries can and have to abstain from disseminating provocative information that can potentially push one or the other party to a deliberate incorrect decision.

This will certainly be a rather hard task, especially for the Washington, taking into account the specific level of expert support and the decision-making process in Trump’s administration.

However, even for a person who sees world politics as a confrontation of superheroes, one can convey the thought that the supervillain Rocketman has a much broader set of superpowers than he thinks.

Finally, if to recall a song that is popular in the North “General Uses Warp”, the Marshal has the ability to teleport and throw the lightning bolts.

Konstantin Asmolov, Ph.D. (History), leading researcher at the Center for Korean Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.