There’s a price to be paid for North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs. It is a price paid every hour of every day. A price paid in providing recruits for armies of millions, paid by millions of subsistence farmers to feed those armies, and paid by the tens of thousands laboring in death camps. It is paid in blood, starvation, tragedy, broken lives, forced indoctrination, endless propaganda, and permanent servitude.
The price is clad in patriotism, glory, Utopian communist ideology, and dreams of unifying the Korean peninsula in the image of the North Korean leadership. Birthed by the Soviet Union and Communist China and only limited, barely, by United Nations intervention in the 1950s, North Korea has become one of the most dystopian countries in the world. It isn’t a brutal dictatorship, or a failed planned economy, or an egregious kleptocracy. It is all three of these, with an applied veneer of double think narrative that extols to its citizens how lucky they all are. It is a nightmare straight out of George Orwell’s 1984, succeeding in horrifying fashion to regularly surpass even the excesses of failed and crumbling states like Zimbabwe, Southern Sudan, Cuba, Somalia, Eritrea, and Chechnya.
To perpetuate the fiction to its citizens that the country is under a constant state of threat or war, the North Korean government antagonizes its neighbors. It explodes underground nuclear bombs, it fires missiles out of its territory, it kidnaps citizens of other countries, it imprisons tourists, it murders wayward members of the leadership’s family, it attacks foreign soldiers and naval units, it exports prohibited technology and arms to unstable countries, and it makes constant bellicose threats to its perceived enemies.
The Chinese communist government, despite being often annoyed by the conduct of the North Korean government, is a steadfast ally and supporter, both economically and militarily. It is ready to re-invade to push back any foreign attack, as it did during the Korean War. This is because the North Korean regime is a convenient buffer state between China and capitalist or western-influenced countries. Analogues to this situation are spread across Asian: Burma / Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan.
The Russian government gazes on North Korea with some wry amusement, seeing it as a convenient stick to poke in the eye of China, Japan, and the United States. It serves as a convenient proving ground for military equipment. North Korea is also a constant drain on China’s resources, a situation for which the Russians have little objection given the simmering friction that occurs periodically between the two neighbors over border disputes or world influence.
So the North Korean government rails on, firing off tubes of metal and propellant in all directions, while screeching petulant warnings of dire consequences to those that defy its wishes. It is an expensive fireworks show, where every expended rocket sends 50,000 citizens deeper into starvation, while every ton of donated humanitarian aide is turned over to the military to feed the border troops that stare resentfully and defiantly at their southern neighbors.
It seems clear that the North Korean government thinks itself as the rook, bishop, or knight in chess, able to attack in any direction. But in fact it is nothing more than a pawn, only able to move forward or not at all. The pawn dreams of taking down the king and queen, if it could only survive to the end game. And while the game is played, North Korean’s people groan in anguish while straining to hold up the chess board.
9/15/17 update: North Korea’s government shot another missile over Japan on this date, shortly after detonating a large-yield nuclear device in the northeast part of the country, near its border with Russia. 50,000 x 2 = 100,000 additional that will starve.