NSA: Reading the North Korean Tea Leaves: The Perpetual Struggle to Fathom Pyongyang’s Motives and Goals

11 April 2013 — NSA

“Brinkmanship” Seen As a “Mainstay of the North’s Negotiating Repertoire,” Say State Department Records

“This Will Not Be a Situation Like the Iraq War,” North Koreans Warned in 1994

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 421
Posted – April 11, 2013

Edited by Robert A. Wampler, PhD

For more information contact:
Robert A. Wampler, PhD 202/994-7000 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu


Washington, D.C., April 11, 2013 – For decades, the erratic behavior of North Korea’s enigmatic leaders has often masked a mix of symbolic and pragmatic motives, according to declassified documents posted today by the National Security Archive. During earlier crises, Kim Jong Un’s father and grandfather postured and threatened the region in ways markedly similar to the behavior of the new leader, the records show.

While the current Kim is acting even more stridently in some cases, the documents reveal a past pattern characterized by bellicose conduct. In 1994, for instance, North Korean military officers threatened the U.S. with a possible preemptive strike if circumstances called for it: “This will not be a situation like the Iraq war,” U.S. officials were told. “We will not give you time to collect troops around Korea to attack us.” Yet American analysts believed during these earlier episodes that Pyongyang’s tone was aimed less at stoking hostilities than advancing a combination of practical objectives – from pushing the international community to accept North Korea’s position, to playing for time, to bolstering the leader’s political position at home.

Today’s posting provides a window into prior efforts to penetrate beneath North Korea’s shrill rhetoric to understand the logic, political dynamics and ultimate objectives underlying Pyongyang’s repeated threats against the U.S. and South Korea. Obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, mostly from the State Department, these records describe events during the 1990s (the Clinton presidency) with notable echoes in the current crisis.

Check out today’s posting at the National Security Archive website –http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB421

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Unredacted, the Archive blog – http://nsarchive.wordpress.com/


THE NATIONAL SECURITY ARCHIVE is an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The Archive collects and publishes declassified documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). A tax-exempt public charity, the Archive receives no U.S. government funding; its budget is supported by publication royalties and donations from foundations and individuals.

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