The BBC has compiled some statistics that give a glimpse of what things are like inside that secretive country. Meanwhile, Peter Maas says that for all its bellicose and defiant rhetoric, North Korea is one of the most predictable nations on the planet and that it is the US that has become the wild, unpredictable card in the dangerous game of nuclear poker.
Indeed, if you are a regular reader of Western reporting from North Korea, you notice a pattern that is so unerring it nearly screams at you. For an excruciatingly long stretch of time, the North Korean regime has been saying the same thing (sometimes crazy-sounding) and acting the same way (sometimes firing missiles or detonating nuclear devices) and generally doing a bang-up job of going to the brink but never over it. North Korea has had just three leaders in its entire existence: Kim Il-sung, then his son, Kim Jong-il, then his son, Kim Jong-un. It’s crucial to understand that rather than being a wild card, North Korea is perhaps the most predictable regime in the world; they are not the X-factor in today’s unnerving game.
Until the end of the Cold War, the U.S. stationed its own nuclear weapons in South Korea even though North Korea, at the time, had none of its own. Almost 65 years after the Korean War ended in 1953, the U.S. continues to station tens of thousands of its soldiers in South Korea (North Korea has no foreign soldiers on its territory) and holds regular military exercises there (and just flew B1 bombers close to North Korean airspace).
We now have Donald Trump and cable news, playing the 24/7 jester on his West Wing wall. Hyping war has always sold newspapers, but the competition for eyeballs and profits is particularly keen these days. And while CNN and MSNBC are terrible enough, Fox News is probably the worst offender in the ratings-driven effort to summon Armageddon. Unfortunately, Fox happens to be the preferred network of the six-times-bankrupt reality television star who somehow gathered enough electoral votes to place him in charge of the U.S. arsenal.
Trump and cable news are the feedback loop from nuclear hell. In a narrow way, this is good for American journalists who wish to write about political insanity. They do not need to travel thousands of miles to visit ground zero of crazy and dangerous.
What worries me about Trump’s threats to North Korea is what he will do to avoid looking weak if, as one would expect, North Korea does not capitulate to his bluster.