Lawrence A. Kuznar is a professor of anthropology at IPFW and has advised the U.S. Department of Defense on global terrorism.
Research indicates that threatening Kim Jong Un in a way that reinforces his perspective only escalates the path to war.
Since 2013, I have applied my research methods to North Korean leader Kim's use of language in relation to his nuclear weapons program. Over the years, I have identified ways he uses language that indicate when he is likely to accelerate this program.
The recent exchange of rhetoric between President Donald Trump and the North Korean government is unsettling, as it confirms previously identified patterns and the findings of other social scientists who study when violent actors pursue and use weapons of mass destruction. Based on this research, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, is right to characterize the situation as “very, very, very serious.”
Our officials need to understand that Kim Jong Un's thought is framed by a strict state religion called Juche.
North Korea's founder and his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, crafted this state religion, which includes Korean nationalism, absolute obedience to and sacrifice for a strongman ruler, worship of the Kim family and an unending black-and-white struggle against evil.
My research has identified an extremely close correlation between mentions of Juche and subsequent escalations of North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
Research on violent organizations indicates that they pursue weapons of mass destruction when they perceive a need for extreme tactics, have a mindset that favors simplistic solutions, and adhere to an ideology that stresses control, anger and identity politics.
These themes are prominent in Kim Jong Un's political rhetoric. Other research on the complexity of his thinking indicates that he prefers simple solutions to the nuances of understanding his enemies' perspectives.
Therefore, rhetoric and actions that reinforce his worldview and thought process are likely to cause him to escalate his own rhetoric and aggressive action. Kim Jong Un's nuclear program absolutely must be opposed, but the manner in which our leaders do that may very well spell the difference between successful deterrence or nuclear war.
The consequences directly imperil the lives of 25 million South Koreans only 35 miles from the North Korean border, more than 100 million Japanese, and perhaps Americans in Guam or our lower 48.
Our nation's leaders must take care, since any misstep may very well make Trump's invocation of “fire and fury,” a tragic reality.