September 26, 2023

The problematic assumptions that cause North Korea predictions to go wrong

Hawks and doves often believe the worst about each other, leading to unrealistic prognostications and poor policy

North Korea is such an intractable foreign policy problem and the stakes surrounding it have such stark implications that the mind often wanders to deviations from the norm, and perhaps assumes that the norm is so precarious that it cannot persist much longer.

The 10-year anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s death is a good time to reflect on this phenomenon. Among engagement skeptics who see North Korea as a threat to contain, there was an assumption that Kim Jong Un could not possibly keep the regime afloat — he was too young, too inexperienced and surrounded by elites pursuing their own interests. Given the headwinds the regime faced, a miscalculation appeared inevitable.