North Korean Information Operations or Cluelessness?

Intelligence

Image via EdLedford.com

To most Americans, the rhetoric that comes from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is laughable. Even the country’s name is about as Orwellian as one could imagine. Voltaire once said the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. The DPRK is Korean, but it is certainly not democratic, not a republic, and cares nothing for its own people.

Their reliance on shopworn communist phrases make them sound like a prototypical college freshman who’s read just enough political theory to get himself into trouble. One wonders if they actually think it has any effect on the western world. Certainly, it works at home, and I’m sure it works in some “developing” parts of the world. One observation I took away from Afghanistan was that for many of the rural uneducated, if it was on the internet, it was true.

Drinking North Korean Kool-aid

North Korea has roughly half a dozen nuclear weapons, not all of which can even fit on a missile, and an improving but still inadequate missile inventory. When it tries to convince the world that a presidential tweet is the legal equivalent of a declaration of war, which is likely to result in consequences the U.S. cannot imagine, it’s natural to ask if they’re drinking so much of their own Kool-Aid that they actually believe their words.

When they pull a stunt like the one reported Tuesday, I raise my eyebrows just a bit. The Washington Post reported that DPRK diplomats at the UN have been reaching out to Republican strategists “in an apparent attempt to make sense of President Trump and his confusing messages to Kim Jong Un’s regime.” Surely no one in the North Korean regime thought that Heritage Foundation experts would give them the time of day, let alone insight into Trump’s thoughts.

But maybe they understand western information operations enough to make a little dent. By making sure this story gets out, they are subtilely aligning themselves with those who cannot hear the president’s name without regurgitating what I’ve come to call the liberal litany: a string of less-than-flattering adjectives, most of which end in “ist.”

The DPRK still won’t get to eat at the cool kids’ table in the cafeteria, no matter how much they appeal to the emotions of the president’s opponents, but since they’re asking I’ll give them a little free advice.

Dear Korea, here is what Trump’s messages mean:

  1. Your nuclear program is unacceptable. With the possible exception of Iran, not one other nation in the world thinks nuclear missiles in the hands of Kim Jong-un is a good idea. So stop trying to bluster your way into getting everyone used to the idea. You’re not getting into the nuclear club.
  2. The more you insist on advancing your capabilities, the more we will tighten the noose of financial sanctions. The rest of the world is beginning to understand: if they deal with you, they will not deal with us. And we spend a lot of money. Last year, while you were struggling to feed your people, we spent $2.9 billion just to entertain ourselves… including a pretty funny movie that upset you.
  3. President Trump did not wake up one morning and decide to pick a fight with the DPRK. Your threats against South Korea, Japan, and the United States, including its territories like Guam, have gone on long enough. Your belligerency doesn’t make you look tough, it makes you look desperate. And it has to stop.
  4. If you employ a nuclear weapon, you will experience a U.S. nuclear response that no one wants, but that President Trump is fully prepared to deliver. He has merely repeated what his predecessors have said only slightly less bluntly: your use of a nuclear weapon will result in the total destruction of your country. We have 4,000 nuclear warheads employed across our nuclear triad of air, land, and sea delivery methods. You’d never even know it was coming.

We all get that you’re paranoid and are just trying to preserve your regime. But there is not one scenario where you use any weapon in your arsenal, let alone a nuclear weapon, that will achieve that objective. If you’re serious about wanting to stay in power, you might try not being such chickenhawks. You’ll find your chances better that way.

Tom McCuin is a strategic communication consultant and retired Army Reserve Civil Affairs and Public Affairs officer whose career includes serving with the Malaysian Battle Group in Bosnia, two tours in Afghanistan, and three years in the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs in the Pentagon. When he’s not devouring political news, he enjoys sailboat racing and umpiring Little League games (except the ones his son plays in) in Alexandria, Va. Follow him on Twitter at @tommccuin

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