North Korea has long maintained it wants nuclear weapons and long-range missiles to deter the United States from attempting to overthrow the regime of Kim Jong-un. Pyongyang looks at states such as Iraq — where Saddam Hussein was overthrown by the United States — and Libya — its late leader, Moammar Gadhafi, gave up his nuclear ambitions for sanctions relief and aid, only to be toppled and killed after the United States intervened in his country’s civil unrest — and believes the only way to stop American military intervention would be to threaten the U.S. mainland with a retaliatory nuclear strike.
Officials in North Korea have long accused the United States of using its war on terror as a means to overthrow hostile governments, including an alleged attempt to dethrone Kim Jong-un earlier this year.
Top officials from the CIA, though, have indicated that Kim’s threats of nuclear action are not those of a maniacal provocateur but a “rational actor” who is motivated by clear, long-term goals that revolve around ensuring the survival of his regime. Part of ensuring the survival of his regime, Kim seems to believe, is to convince the United States to mind its own business by whatever means necessary.
Many experts believe North Korea would not use the weapons without being provoked. Kim values his regime’s survival above all else and knows the use of a nuclear weapon, especially if he was the one to initiate the action, would start a war he could not win.
Yong Suk Lee, deputy assistant director of the CIA’s Korea Mission Center, discussed the escalating tensions between North Korea and the U.S. during a conference organized by the Central Intelligence Agency at George Washington University.
“There’s a clarity of purpose in what Kim Jong-un has done,” Lee stated.
“Waking up one morning and deciding he wants to nuke Los Angeles is not something Kim Jong Un is likely to do. He wants to rule for a long time and die peacefully in his own bed.”
It is clear, though, that North Korea resents the fact that the U.S. has gotten involved in matters not directly involving them in the past and could do so again.
At the 72nd United Nations General Assembly, Pyongyang’s representatives reiterated their commitment to fighting terrorism, though stated it was their belief that the main reason international terrorism still existed was because of U.S. interference in foreign matters.
And for CIA officers, diplomats and lawmakers tasked with utilizing intelligence to protect the U.S. and its allies from the security threats posed by North Korea, understanding that purpose could prove to be key in avoiding a potentially devastating military conflict.
In recent months, the United States has been applying more and more diplomatic pressure onto North Korea, but their efforts have only been met with bold defiance from Kim’s regime as Pyongyang continues to move toward realizing its nuclear ambitions.
Despite constant assurances from Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that the U.S. badly wants to seek a peaceful resolution, neither side has gone out of its way to demonstrate that it is ready or willing to engage in serious negotiations.
The mixed-messages coming from the Trump administration have done nothing but raise questions cause a great deal of anxiety in regards to America’s approach to North Korea.
Trump has repeatedly undermined and contradicted comments made by his top officials about a peaceful resolution and publicly engaged in a war of words with Kim that has devolved into insults and name-calling. His actions have only raised fears of an eventual military conflict.
...Save your energy Rex, we'll do what has to be done!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2017
Kim Jong Un of North Korea, who is obviously a madman who doesn't mind starving or killing his people, will be tested like never before!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 22, 2017
However, as the President of the United States continues to publicly paint Kim as an irrational dictator, CIA officials said the intelligence community views the North Korean leader’s actions an entirely different way.
Lee insisted that Kim has “no interest in going toe to toe” with the U.S. military and its allies.
“The last person who wants conflict on the peninsula is actually Kim Jong Un,” Lee said. “We have a tendency in this country and elsewhere to underestimate the conservatism that runs in these authoritarian regimes.”
According to Lee and Michael Collins, the Deputy Assistant Director of the east Asia and Pacific mission center at the CIA, Kim Jong-un believes that having a confrontational relationship with the United States, as well as other parts of the world, better positions him to maintain his grip on power in North Korea.
“North Korea is a political organism that thrives on confrontation,” Lee said.
[Featured Image by Wong Maye-E/AP Images]