Fletcher in the News

Prof. Lee Weighs in on North Korea's Bluster and Propaganda

The New York Times

Sung-Yoon Lee is the Kim Koo-Korea Foundation Professor in Korean Studies and Assistant Professor at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University

This week, North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jung-un, ordered his underlings to prepare for a missile attack on the United States. He appeared at a command center in front of a wall map with the bold, unlikely title, “Plans to Attack the Mainland U.S.” Earlier in the month, his generals boasted of developing a “Korean-style” nuclear warhead that could be fitted atop a long-range missile.

But the missile systems that figure in Mr. Kim’s blitz of threats and orders do not yet have the range to approach American shores. There is no evidence his nuclear weapons can be shrunk to fit atop a missile. And a prominent photograph showing Mr. Kim’s military making a Normandy-style beach landing appears to have been manufactured, raising questions about whether his forces could possibly repeat the feat his grandfather pulled off in 1950, ordering a ground attack to open the Korean War.

On top of all that, most countries on the verge of a major military assault do not broadcast their battle plans to the world.

“You would expect such a military order to be issued in secret,” said Kim Min-seok, spokesman of the South Korean Defense Ministry. “We believe that by revealing it to the media and publicizing it to the world, North Korea is playing psychology.” …

… In such a setting, Mr. Kim’s trip to a border island on a wooden boat — it almost seemed designed to create a “Washington crossing the Delaware” motif — is proof of his “daring and pluck,” as the country’s main party newspaper, Rodong, explained. Rodong also declared about North Korea’s nuclear weapons: “Let the American imperialists and their followers know! We are not a pushover like Iraq or Libya.” The first, famously, had no nuclear weapons; the second gave up its nascent nuclear program in late 2003, a move North Korea describes as Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s greatest mistake.

In the propaganda world that the three generations of the Kim dynasty has created, Mr. Kim is “a great iron-willed general admired by all of his people, including real generals who have actually served in the military,” said Lee Sung-yoon, North Korea specialist at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. “For the Kim III, fantasy is reality.”

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