Is Kim Jong Un Preparing for War?

January 11, 2024
Robert L. Carlin and Siegfried S. Hecker

The following is an excerpt from 38 North.

The situation on the Korean Peninsula is more dangerous than it has been at any time since early June 1950. That may sound overly dramatic, but we believe that, like his grandfather in 1950, Kim Jong Un has made a strategic decision to go to war. We do not know when or how Kim plans to pull the trigger, but the danger is already far beyond the routine warnings in Washington, Seoul and Tokyo about Pyongyang’s “provocations.” In other words, we do not see the war preparation themes in North Korean media appearing since the beginning of last year as typical bluster from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea).

Raising the specter of Pyongyang’s decision to go to a military solution—in effect, to give warning of war—in the absence of “hard” evidence is fraught. Typically, it will be met with the by-now routine argument that Kim Jong Un would not dare take such a step because he “knows” Washington and Seoul would destroy his regime if he does so. If this is what policymakers are thinking, it is the result of a fundamental misreading of Kim’s view of history and a grievous failure of imagination that could be leading (on both Kim’s and Washington’s parts) to a disaster.

Historical Context

A failure to understand the history of North Korean policy over the past 33 years is not simply an academic problem. Getting that history wrong has dangerous implications for grasping the magnitude of what confronts us now. Without grasping in detail what, why, and how North Korean policy retained its central goal of normalizing relations with the United States from 1990 until 2019, there is no way to understand the profound change that has taken place in Pyongyang’s thinking since then. This bedrock policy shift by Kim to gird for a war would only come after he concluded all other options had been exhausted, and that the previous strategy shaping North Korean policy since 1990 had irrevocably failed.

Continue reading at 38 North.

Comments Are Closed