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Four reasons why North Korea's greatest strengths are actually weaknesses

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 9th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Much has been made of North Korea and its ability to destabilize the region with its powerful military and fanatically devoted populace. Although most of the world dismisses Kim Jong Un's bluster as just that, there are a few who remain concerned that a miscalculation could cause the new leader to blunder into war. In such an event, despite the fact North Korea is a technological backwater, the North Korean juggernaut remains feared.

While plenty reason exists to fear North Korean might, there's also a lot of reason to discount it. Here are four of that country's greatest supposed strengths and why they are really liabilities in the event of war.

Army of 1.2 million. North Korea is legendary for its large military. With approximately 1.2 million soldiers in its army, it can easily overwhelm the South Korean military with an advantage of more than 2 to 1.
However, this isn't such a strength, particularly following any initial thrust.

One million troops consume a lot of food and during combat they consume fuel and ammunition among other supplies. While North Korea can lay in plenty of ammunition, food is perishable and it will be difficult to feed a moving, fighting army that is subject to interdiction by superior enemy airpower.

A more likely outcome will be mass defections and the surrender of large numbers of troops when they are faced with starvation and a lack of supplies.

North Korea is already dependent on international food aid to feed its starving population and most food aid is diverted to the army. However, in the event of war, all food shipments would likely cease and the only food many soldiers would get is that foraged from the countryside. That's not enough to ensure the success of a military campaign. Undoubtedly, this weighs heavily on the minds of North Korea's military planners and leaders and serves as a brake on Kim Jong Un's imperialist ambition.
 
The fanatic devotion of the people. North Korea runs much like a religious cult. Even the news reporters and media personalities are bombastic, emotional, and show more public devotion to "Dear Leader" than many westerners show God in their churches. People are commonly photographed and taped bowing before portraits of their "Dear Leaders" which are regarded as shrines.

Such fanatical devotion could prove dangerous as the populace is apparently ready to fight to the death for their dear leader.

Certainly, there are true devotees. There were good Nazis, and even Japan had to turn away volunteers for kamikaze service. Many Branch Davidians died because they refused to flee their compound as it burned. However, most people are not fools.

North Korea is a nation governed by fear. Not only is the individual who infracts the rules subject to severe punishment, including death, but their families are as well. Many people who would otherwise break away and speak out against the North Korean regime would probably do so if not for fear their family, including children, would spend the rest of their lives in a forced labor camp.

Much of the North Korean economy depends on forced labor and it is widely exploited to prop up the national economy. As a result even minor infractions can land an entire family behind barbed wire.

For this reason, many people will harbor secret resentment against their Dear Leader and hope for a day when they no longer have to feign selfless devotion. A war could provide such an opportunity, especially if it went badly. This is not to suggest that North Koreans would also willingly accept foreign occupation of their country, but they aren't likely to be as quick to die for Dear Leader as one might assume. In fact, the country could be filled with people who would like to see Kim Jong Un fall from power.

This could be the very purpose of the current manufactured crisis. Many speculate that the crisis is being manufactured by Kim Jong Un as a means of consolidating his domestic power. The people are ruled by fear, which works, but also breeds resentment. If the people find an opportunity to throw off the chains of oppression, they may be quick to turn against their own leaders. So far, despite the tough talk, it appears to be a risk Kim Jong Un is unwilling to take.

The bomb. Some of the greatest concern over North Korea is related to its nuclear capability. Kim Jong Un has threatened to deploy nuclear weapons against any nation that threatens North Korea, and has made a public spectacle of threatening South Korea and the United States. The world knows North Korea has the bomb. This will give many pause when it comes to fighting with the state rather than negotiating. 

While the bomb can deter aggression, it can also inspire it. North Korea has both the bomb and a crazed dictator in control of it. This is an unstable combination and that can inspire other states to intervene powerfully before something unpredictable happens.

Indeed, if conflict does occur, the allied nations will probably strike that much harder and with greater intensity in a bid to neutralize the country's nuclear capability. That would include striking command and control facilities and any other infrastructure seen as essential to deployment of a bomb.

So rather than discouraging intervention, the bomb could encourage swift and powerful intervention of the most aggressive sort at the first sign of perceived danger.

Nothing. Perhaps North Korea's greatest wartime asset is quite literally nothing. The country is wracked with poverty, disease, and hardship. What is left for the country to lose when its people already live in a primitive state compared to the rest of the world?

Actually, quite a lot. Anyone who lives in privilege from Kim Jong Un himself to his generals, to his supporters, and to his bureaucrats, all enjoy a fair standard of living compared to the rest of the people. That means anyone who enjoys power of any sort also enjoys privilege and can lose it at the moment of conflict. This is a powerful disincentive to war, especially one the country is likely to lose.

Far from being fearful of North Korean conflict, the world should recognize that there's little to worry about from North Korea. What we are most afraid of is also that which keeps them restrained. In reality, they must fear war as much as we do. For that reason we can go back to sleep at night.

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