The rational actor's logic: the North Korean case
Kim Jong-un, the incumbent North Korean leader, is just one link in a chain of dictators holding on to power. The North Korean issue pervades the global mind. Constantly, international community sorts this leader as a controversial, a tyrant, a mad and an irrational, due to his exaggerated speeches and megalomania. Because of his appearances on media, heading impressive military parades or watching the launch of rockets with a nuclear warhead, challenging the great superpower and the international system, international leaders, who have condemned this dictatorial regime, are all them right, at least as a first impression.
To get a true understanding of King Jom-un’s behavior, and his apparent irrationality, it is necessary to dig more within the Korean goals and Asian context, as well as the fundamental in negotiation’s affairs:
First, negotiation means something for exchanging. If one of the negotiators does not have any to give, then this does not exist as such. In this case, who lacks an exchanging tool only will ought to accept other´s conditions and exigencies. At asymmetric conflicts, the weaker side will look for an especial card which lets him balance the negotiation. The stronger side will impede the weaker to get such a card. Negotiation is inherent in conflict and its theory.
Second, the strategy is a hard dispute between two or more entities contesting for protecting or advancing their goals. Such entities must find out appropriate ways, watching carefully the limit of their resources. Strategy means the clash of two wills, regarding the strategic environment. The correct observance of the strategic environment will give a competitive advantage to one of the competitors. To obtain successful and great achievement, competitors require a strategic route based on real strengths.
Third, the rational actor keeps the same logic: “maximize its results and minimize its resources, being conscious that all results is bounded with risk”. A rational actor isn´t necessarily playing according specific rules, in fact, it creates and develops its own regarding the strategic environment. Sometimes, a rational actor seems irrational, and sometimes it is, and sometimes only pretends. Whether rational or irrational act is, only will depend of judgments based on values or rules previously stated.
Then, is the North Korean case, an irrational or rational fact? Let see. A poor country, blocked by the whole international community, condemned by several governments and international bodies, with structural economical problems, has something to exchange with its main contenders as the USA, Japan, and South Korea? Well, the answer is clearly not.
In this regard, not having strategic natural resources, a great internal market, or some comparative national advantage, North Korea developed its nuclear program to negotiate in the international Arena. Such nuclear development changed the asymmetric conflict, particularly with the last launch of an intercontinental nuclear warhead. Now North Korea has an ace for playing and negotiating.
North Korea understood the strategic environment. Since 1995, Kim Il-sung (grandfather), then Kim Jong-il (father), and finally with Kim Jong-un (son), the strategic route has not been modified. The Grand National strategy has steadily followed and reached. Clear objectives as being nuclear power, stated in the national constitution, has been reached with the cost of the suffering of the North Korean people. As others criminal dictators did in human history, North Korean leaders have been become the worst scourge of their people without altering its international policy.
Although sorted as an irrational actor, Kim Jong-un has maximized and reach his goals with minimum resources in comparison to his competitors. About the dangerous risk of war against the western world powers, it was compensated by forming alliances with China and Russia, getting a regional counterbalance. The performance of Kim Jong-un, having in consideration the positive outcomes, could be conceptualized as rational.
Synthesizing, North Korea can negotiate, its resources continue the same, and apparently has gotten some its national goals. The fresh image widely watched during the opening parade of the Korean Winter Games, in which both southern and northern Korean delegations marched together under one flag, reflects new winds blowing in the international arena. Irrational actor North Korea, composed of criminal leaders, is rationally with better conditions to negotiate its future, and incredibly it happens before the unskilled super powers without having an appropriate idea of the conflict’s nature, and consequently flawed negotiation.
Author: Angulo Palma, Alfredo