Dangerous Brew: North Korea’s Self-Reliance Amid Isolation


Colonel Mike Angley

JUCHE (주체)is the Korean word for self-reliance. North Korea adopted it as a national slogan under Kim Il-sung’s reign (Kim Jong-un’s grandfather and first dictator of the communist regime). Juche has been slung about as an expression of national pride and was the north’s way of saying it could go it alone in the world, but it’s always been more slogan than reality.

The north has been a client state of China since its founding. At various times it also had considerable influence from the former Soviet Union (commie birds of a feather and all). China dominates the north’s realm for several reasons: geography, culture, and ethnic similarities.

China has enjoyed a history spanning thousands of years wherein it served as the figurehead of the family of Asian nations. This has deep roots in the Asian culture’s emphasis on filial piety in which elders, such as fathers and oldest brothers, hold positions of power and influence in a family.

The Korean nation, pre-division, fell right in with this notion of filial piety to China, but after division following WW II, the south managed to find genuine independence. The north clung to its dependence, further strengthened by a new factor: communism. The fact that China and North Korea served the same Marxist code gave the north even more reason to bow to its neighbor.

Like many things that are artificial about the north (and communism in general), so is Juche. Kim Il-sung adopted it to motivate the working masses. With one hand he waved to his subjects, proclaiming self-reliance, while with the other hand, hidden behind his back, he held his palm open for Chinese or Soviet money, power, protection, and assistance.

Despite its obvious dependence on China, North Korea has acted out at times as a way of showing its independence. Unfortunately, the regime has consistently chosen to prove its self-reliance through acts of violence and terrorism.

In the many decades since the end of WW II there have been dozens of deadly incidents at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) involving North Korean soldiers attacking those of the south. In addition, the north has engaged in various attacks in the south as well as off-peninsula:

– Attempted assassination of South Korean President Park Chung-hee in the Blue House (the south’s White House)

– Numerous kidnappings of South Korean and Japanese citizens from their countries

– Assassination in China of Kim Jong-nam (Kim Jong-un’s eldest brother)

– Bombing of South Korean Air Lines flight 858

– Hijacking of KAL flight YS-11 and kidnapping of the passengers and crew to the north

– Attempted assassination of SK President Chun Doo-hwan in Rangoon, Burma (Myanmar)

– Lod Airport Massacre in Tel Aviv, Israel

There are many more incidents I could list, but there’s one key point to be made about North Korean acts of terror. The north typically acts out at times when it feels isolated or simply slighted on the international scene.

It involves a bit of irony. When the north feels those states that support it are pulling back – essentially providing opportunity to become more independent – it feels threatened by the very self-reliance it asserts to have. One would think the north would jump on the chance to showcase Juche in a positive way under such circumstances.

That brings us to today. There’s a dangerous mix of influences on the Korean peninsula. Kim Jong-un has felt vulnerable since he took the reins of power in 2011. He’s murdered several elite members of the North Korean Worker’s Party, to include senior military generals (strapped one fellow to a tree and fired artillery at him). He assassinated his own brother whom he felt was an international embarrassment as well as a threat to his dictatorship.

He repeatedly taunts Japan and the west with threats of nuclear war and missile tests. The more those tests fail, the more agitated he becomes. International embarrassment weakens Kim’s hypnotic hold over his own people and threatens him domestically.

Kim’s sense of filial piety to China has been tested since China began to thaw relations with the United States, and one of the areas of ‘warmer’ discussions has been the north itself. China has curtailed coal shipments from the north as punishment for its recent saber rattling. That’s a major slap in the face and one that challenges North Korea’s phony self-reliance.

What this means to the United States and to the region is that Kim’s regime is vulnerable, embarrassed, and threatened. These make for ripe conditions for one of the north’s signature attacks. The more the international community expresses doubt that Kim would use nuclear weapons, the more inclined he is to prove them wrong.

Kim Jong-un is as much an irrational actor as his father and grandfather were. He’s proven this in the five and a half years he’s been on the throne. It would not be out of the question for him to risk the total destruction of his country to prove his manhood, and he’s hot-headed enough to order the deployment of a nuclear weapon to get in a first strike.

This is not to suggest appeasement is the right course of action; that’s been the failed strategy of the United States for too long. President Trump knows this and that’s why Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently condemned America’s practice of ‘strategic patience,’ a PC euphemism for finger-crossing, closing our eyes, and hoping for the best.

Rather, steady pressure and using China as leverage are key as well as maintaining a visible, ready arsenal in the region, one that includes tactical nuclear weapons. In addition, keeping some of America’s strategic nuclear weapons aimed at Pyongyang – and ensuring Kim knows it – also helps. He’s mad enough to push the button. We need to be ready enough to thwart a first strike, and should we fail, to counterstrike immediately.

Colonel Michael (“Mike”) Angley is retired from the United States Air Force, a published thriller author, and a conservative writer who fashions himself as Attila the Hun with a laptop. Mike wrote for Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government and Big Peace blogs before the Breitbart consolidation, receiving superb feedback and kudos for typically weaving in pop culture references with his far right perspectives. He enjoys writing about military affairs, national security issues, and politics and is an avid Second Amendment advocate. When he’s not writing, he’s busy annoying liberals with FaceBook posts and Twitter tweets that point out the obvious flaws and fallacies of the left.

During his 26-year USAF career, the Colonel was a Special Agent with the Office of Special Investigations (OSI). The OSI is a sister agency to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and has an identical mission that includes felony-level criminal, fraud, and narcotics investigations as well as counterintelligence and counterterrorism operations. His USAF experiences spanned multiple regions around the globe with five command assignments and duties at foreign, regional, theater and national levels.

He is a seasoned counterintelligence and counterespionage officer from the Cold War era, and if you ask him he’ll tell you the spy-vs-spy days were indeed the heady, glory era of espionage. During the latter half of his career he focused on counterterrorism missions in the Middle East and the Far East and operationalized many of today’s concepts for this unique arena while working the sand dunes of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and a few other “choice” locations. When Colonel Angley retired in 2007, he was a Senior Supervisory Special Agent and was in command of all worldwide OSI matters at Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs, CO.

Mike Angley is also a published, award-winning author of three thriller novels in the “Child Finder” trilogy. His debut novel, “Child Finder,” received a glowing review from the Library Journal which placed it on its Summer Reading list in 2009. “Child Finder” and its companion sequel novels all won various awards from the Military Writers Society of America (MWSA) and the Public Safety Writers Association. In 2012, Mike was named MWSA’s “Author of the Year,” largely for work on his third novel, “Child Finder: Revelation.”

As an avid user of social media, Mike can be found and friended on Facebook (mike.angley) and followed on Twitter (@MikeAngley). His website is www.mikeangley.com. Following his USAF retirement, Mike and his family stayed in Colorado Springs, CO where they enjoy daily, majestic views of Pikes Peak and the Rocky Mountains.


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