North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un is not the madman he is often made out to be, a senior CIA official revealed Oct. 4.
Many have speculated that that a crazed Kim Jong Un might just wake up one morning and order a nuclear strike on another country, but experts and officials argue that this is an extremely unlikely situation, as the young dictator, while brutal, is a rational actor.
"Kim Jong Un is a very rational actor," Deputy Assistant Director of CIA for Korea Mission Center Yong Suk Lee explained at a conference at George Washington University.
"The last person who wants conflict on the peninsula is Kim Jong Un," he argued, asserting that Kim wants what all authoritarian rulers want — "he wants to rule for a long time and die peacefully in his own bed."
"Bluster and rhetoric aside, Kim Jong Un has no interest in going toe-to-toe with combined forces command," Lee explained. "That's not conducive to his long-term rule."
Lee, who has analyzed North Korea for more than two decades, also countered arguments that Kim needs to wage war to satisfy the hawkish demands of the North Korean elites. "Believe me, North Korean elites are not interested in getting their faces on a deck of cards and being chased after by [Joint Special Operations Command]," he said.
"Beyond the bluster, Kim Jong Un is a rational actor," Lee said.
Assuming that Kim is not crazy, then a random attack on the US or an American ally is not realistic or in the interests of a regime that is focused on maintaining its existence.
"An out-of-the-blue attack is not conducive to his regime interests and his longevity," Lee explained, adding that nuclear weapons and missiles give the North some strategic maneuverability. The CIA appears to assume that North Korea's interests are regime survival, deterring US aggression, and gaining acceptance as a nuclear power.
North Korea's strategic thinking is important to understanding its frequent provocations. "North Korea is clearly testing the tolerance of the United States and the international community to manage its increasingly provocative behavior aimed at establishing itself as a recognized nuclear and missile-armed state. They are raising the threshold for the United States and others to accept or press back against them," argued Michael Collins, the Deputy Assistant Director of CIA for East Asia Mission Center.
"I expect that this tension will continue," he said.
Lee actually suggested, as have officials in South Korea and Japan, that North Korea might engage in provocative behavior around Oct. 10, the anniversary of the founding of the North Korean communist party. The North has a tendency to mark major events with its own brand of fireworks.