Kim Jong Un Isn't Crazy (Or At Least Not in the Way You Think)

Victor Cha is the former Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council, where he served as an advisor to the President from 2004-2007. The recipient of two Outstanding Service Commendations during his tenure at the White House, Cha is also the award-winning author of Alignment Despite Antagonismand Beyond the Final Score: The Politics of Sport in Asia. His writing has appeared in Foreign Affairs,International Security, and Political Science Quarterly, among other journals. As an expert on North Korea, he has been interviewed on many national news outlets, including ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox, PBS News,and he has written on the topic for the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Financial Times, the LosAngeles Times, and for USA Today. Cha currently holds the D.S. Song Chair in Government in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.


Photo Credit:  Kaveh Sardari

  • Transcript


So you might wonder what is the main misconception that exists about North Korea, and I guess the one I would focus on is this notion that they are crazy and irrational.  The regime certainly operates according to its own very risk-acceptant rationality, so they’re much more willing to shake up the card table, if you will, and threaten the whole game because they know that we, meaning the rest of the world, have much more at stake in peace than they do.  When you have less to lose, you’re much more willing to be risk acceptant, much more willing to be belligerent, and so I think there is certainly an element of that in North Korean rationality.  But they’re not crazy.  They’re quite rational in terms of how they behave.

I think another misconception that people have is that somehow this really doesn't matter for the average American because it is this small, kind of harmless country that is simply trying to prop its leadership up and wants goodies from the United States and others to allow this leadership to look good.  And I think to an extent that's true, but I think one of the things that you have to remember is, this would be harmless if they were not pursuing weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.  Then, it would be harmless.  But the fact of the matter is, they are on a systematic path to try to create long-range missiles with nuclear warheads that can reach the United States.  That makes it a very serious threat.

I think a lot of the parodies that we see about North Korea, in many ways, is filling a void because we don't have any other good information about what is going on inside North Korea. We just see pictures of a quirky leadership and we don't have a lot of facts behind that.  So, these caricatures and these comic strips and these movies that we see sort of fill a void of information that, at the same time, is quite worrying.  I mean, the fact that we don't have that information is quite worrying.  

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd