Machiavelli’s The Prince, published in 1513, is one of the most influential and enduring books to date. It still serves as an inspirational guide of sorts for politicians, autocrats, and leaders across the globe.
Machiavelli discussed power and the best ways for a single bodied ruler to consolidate, solidify, and maintain his power via actions that promote fear and encourage selfishness. Thus, a Machiavelli is a leader that will take any action, regardless of the possible moral or societal consequences, as long as the end result causes the leader to maintain power. The ultimate goal of any good Machiavelli is to gain and preserve power.
North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un, assumed power on December 28th, 2011 after his father and the previous dictator, Kim Jong-il, died. He is a rational, cunning, and patient Machiavellist who intentionally uses fear to sustain his country’s existence and gain advantage amongst the international community.
Kim Jong-un consciously tries to come off as a mentally unstable sociopath who is not afraid to nuke another nation at a moment’s notice in order to maintain long-term intimidation. This intimidation is given credence through the missile tests and various warheads–some of which are nuclear—the country possesses and the possibility that they could cause exceptional devastation. It is also necessary for Kim to intimidate the world’s powers so brazenly in order for him and his party to maintain control of North Korea.
It’s important to take a step back and understand how North Korea ended up where it is today. A set of economic policies and societal rules make up the Juche ideology that North Korea began following more and more intensely once previous support from the USSR began waning and eventually ended in 1991. Juche places heavy emphasis on sovereignty, self-defense, Korean nationalism, and the basic tenets of Marxism-Leninism.
The ideology was then used to begin complete isolationism from the West and its influences, despite the fall of virtually all communism throughout the world, in order to maintain power within the Kim family. Without isolationism, North Korea would become exposed to Western influences that could bring about democratic elections that could consequently depose the Kim family, and the Workers’ Party of North Korea (WPK), of their power. This course was avoided because it goes against basic Machiavelli tenets which advocate for a ruler to maintain power at all costs.
North Korea tenaciously hangs on to the old guard of communism and isolationism simply so that the WPK can stay in power and continue to pass the baton of leadership down the Kim lineage.
North Korea is notorious for its rampant testing of missiles despite stern warnings and sanctions from the international community. These missiles range in size and the amount of distance that they can cover. They include artillery rockets that could hit Seoul within 15 minutes, surface to surface missiles that could strike Japan, and as of July 7th an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) capable of hitting Alaska.
North Korea then launched a missile on Friday, July 28th, that could travel as far as Chicago according to various experts. This method of intimidation is known as saber rattling because it reminds other nations of its powers and that its threats are constantly credible. Kim and his generals utilize saber rattling to coerce other countries into giving them what they desire. According to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), North Korea’s missiles have become increasingly more powerful over time due to their ability to travel farther and create bigger explosions.
People have used fear through all of human history to push others into giving into their demands. Machiavelli has advised the world that autocrats who wish to retain power for the longest period of time should prefer the usage of fear over kindness.
Kim Jong-un’s aim is to procure several benefits for North Korea via its saber rattling. These goals include the natural desire to demonstrate that North Korea is capable of defending itself from outsiders, acceptance amongst the international community, and the acquiring of capital through compulsion in order to keep its economy afloat.
Self-preservation is paramount for any society that wishes to maintain its way of life and stave off encroachment or conquest from outside powers. North Korea, a tiny nation with a small population that is surrounded by mighty, developed nations, demonstrates to the world that it is capable of defending itself.
The missile launches and military parades serve as visceral spectacles to remind the world of the consequences that would come with a preemptive strike or an invasion. The further acceleration of these programs and parades, despite sanctions and condemnation from most of the world, further shows the North’s resolve and commitment to its agenda.
North Korea’s second primary goal is to gain full acceptance, recognition, and respect amongst the international community. This includes; admittance into international groups such as the UN; the removal of all US troops and bases from South Korea; a reconciliation of conflict and tension with the US and South on its terms as opposed to theirs; and acknowledgement of a reality that North Korea has become too powerful to coerce and the status quo too risky to maintain.
North Korea has been publicly announcing this to be their primary goal, but experts and world leaders have been mostly dismissive of their hopes. This objective is essential to the North if they wish to survive in the long term. Experts surmise that the country will eventually collapse or be destroyed at some point due to its weak economy and massive tension with neighboring powers.
Acceptance into the international community would allow freer trade, the removal of sanctions, and a serious reduction of tensions. The New York Time’s Max Fisher has extrapolated these points in greater detail in his article “North Korea’s Nuclear Arms Sustain Drive for ‘Final Victory.’”
One of the other purposes, though not the primary one, of the missile launches is to intimidate Western powers into giving the country money through the form of foreign aid. Most experts concluded that North Korea should have imploded 5, 10, or 15 years ago because the country’s economy, until very recently, was not growing due to a lack of cash to pay its bills.
The Telegraph reported that North Korea has received over £4 million from the United Kingdom since 2011. The Congressional Research Service has shown that the United States has given the North about $1.3 billion, mostly in the form of food aid and energy assistance, from 1995 to 2008. North Korea would have no credible way of intimidating other powers into giving it cash and credit without its arsenal. However, this plan often backfires as well because continued testing of nuclear weapons often causes an increase in sanctions.
As previously mentioned, North Korea has defied all odds and long outlived the lifespan that many experts had assigned it. Clearly, there is a method to this madness that is working very well. North Korea has managed to prevent the erosion of its isolated society and military conquest because of one simple principle: a threat from a mentally unstable person is taken much more seriously than a threat from someone that is calm and calculating.
The scenario is akin to a madman with a loaded gun who screams and fires shots into the air threatening to cause mayhem if his demands are not met. Any rational person that found themselves in this situation would do what the psychopath asked of them because the apparent risk is too high and the reward not great enough.
No country wants to take any chances with the North because of the consequences, a missile or nuclear strike into a major metropolitan area is not worth any possible reward. Little do they know that underneath the mask lies a clever criminal that uses hysteria and fear to get people to do his bidding.
It turns out that Kim Jong-un is far from the idiot that he portrays himself to be. He is actually a clever chess player that uses nuclear missiles to preserve the North’s way of life and his status as a dictator, to gain acceptance amongst the international community, and rear in money to help bolster the state’s weak economy.
He directly or indirectly follows the basic tenet of Machiavelli’s The Prince: any leader that wishes to remain in power for the longest period should use fear in vast quantities. The result is a world community that is mostly paralyzed and unable to take much direct action. It is clearly impossible to predict where this course will head in the future. All we can hope is that cooler heads prevail and that conflict can be avoided for the sake of mankind.