For nearly half a century, North Korea has been prepared for war. They sit apart from the world, separated by scores of barbed wire and concrete tank-traps in a purported “hermit kingdom.” Existing in a continuous war posture has become the country’s identity, but now tensions are heightening in the region and North Korean’s Asian neighbours fear a recent round of events may provoke an arms race.
Officially known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the nation utilizes the Juche Idea as its political system. Devised by Communist Kim Il Sung and continued by his successor, his son Kim Jong-il, the Juche Idea requires citizens to pledge absolute loyalty to the country’s ruling party (the Workers’ Party of Korea) and its leader.
Along with the Juche Idea, North Korea’s leaders exploit a “cult of personality” to maintain rule. Kim Jong-il and his father are deified, with innumerable statues and monuments in their likenesses strewn across the country like absurd altars in worship of madness. State film studios crank out propaganda, infusing the culture in a tone of unvarying threat and severance from the rest of the world.
North Korea is a deeply militarized society. The country employs a “songun policy,” which effectively is a “military first” strategy. This forces a great deal of the nation’s GDP to be spent on the military. Aid agencies say that at least a third of North Korea’s population relies on food handouts to stave off starvation, while Kim Jong-il’s government and military continue to be top priority. The songun policy is couched in an attitude of defiance towards North Korea’s neighbours and “enemies.”
Recent news of nuclear tests sent neighbours in South Korea, China and Japan into panic mode. North Korea has also been testing short-range missiles, with new reports of long-range testing planned for the next two weeks further escalating the anxiety.
So what can be done with a nation so entrenched in bizarre ideology that it pits the rest of the world as enemies? How can the interminable surge of propaganda and misinformation be countered? And what are the options for cracking the vigorous, wicked cult of personality of Kim Jong-il and his minions?
There are, of course, no easy answers. North Korea possesses one of the largest armies in the world, but there is much conjecture as to how well-armed the troops actually are. Reports from the border suggest that some soldiers carry wooden replicas instead of actual firing weapons.
South Koreans have lived under the threat from the North since the end of the Korean War. There has been steady fear of North Korea’s actions, with the threat of nuclear war and artillery ever-looming. These latest tests increase tension in the South, especially near Seoul due to its proximity to the demilitarized zone.