- The North Korean leadership treats its nuclear weapons as the ultimate guarantee of regime survival
- Beijing worries that accepting North Korea as a nuclear state will trigger a dangerous regional arms race
- Notwithstanding the bellicose language coming from Washington, the key to defusing the crisis is in China’s hands
In his presently overused metaphor, Winston Churchill famously described Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” adding: “but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.” This description fits North Korea quite well, too. Of course, for “national interest” one needs to substitute the interest of the Kim dynasty. In recent times, the world again has witnessed sudden twists and turns in Pyongyang’s international posture. One thing, however, seems never to change: the nearly total impenetrability of the world’s most secretive country.
The difficulty in trying to understand what makes North Korea tick stems not only from the isolation of the country. It is also due to the fact that the regime in Pyongyang is truly unique. When one analyzes Syria’s dictator Bashar al-Assad, for example, parallels can be drawn to other Middle Eastern autocrats like Saddam Hussein or Muammar Qaddafi. To understand the phenomenon of Venezuela’s despot Nicolas Maduro, references to other caudillos, like Fidel Castro or Juan Peron, can be made.
Kim Jong-un stands alone. There is no other country in the world that has a political system even remotely similar to North Korea’s.