Rational But Maybe Not Your Reason

I agree with Fareed Zakaria that Kim Jong Un is rational:

In fact, the summit has one benefit, regardless of the outcome. As the two sides meet and talk, it probably ends the idea of North Korea as crazy. Some of Washington’s biggest mistakes have been when it has treated countries or governments as 10 feet tall and fanatical or lunatic. And for years, the conventional wisdom about North Korea was that it was unpredictable, irrational and thus undeterrable. After all, people said, just look at the bizarre rituals and crazy haircuts of its leaders.

In fact, as I have often pointed out, the North Korean regime has been rational, strategic and successful — given its core goal, survival. It has preserved its basic form of government for 70 years, persevering through the breakdown of the Soviet Union and its empire, the Arab Spring and the demise of other Asian dictatorships, from South Korea to Taiwan to Indonesia. How many family dynasties have been able to hand over power, father to son to grandson?

I don’t quite know how he reaches this conclusion:

In doing so, we will realize that it is a rational regime. And we will also understand that if negotiations fail, it can be contained. North Korea is capable of being deterred. But it also capable of outwitting an American president, especially one too eager to make a deal.

The emphasis is mine.

“Rational” means that using logic and based on your premises and the evidence at hand you recognize that your actions have certain consequences. It doesn’t mean that another party uses your premises or evidence. For Kim Jong Un the premises are that he’s divine and has preternatural tactical and negotiating powers and that China will back his hand. The facts on the ground include that the United States has not successfully deterred North Korea from obtaining and testing its nuclear weapons and that the U. S. has been deterred from unseating the Kim regime over the period of the last 70 years.

I’m pretty sure that Kim is rational but I have my doubts about Fareed Zakaria. I think the only thing we can assume is that North Korea will cheat on any agreement that is negotiated.

1 comment… add one
  • Andy

    I think the preponderance of evidence supports the idea that the regime acts rationally in terms of its primary goal: regime survival. That is the overarching priority and I think any negotiation or action by the regime should be interpreted on that basis.

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