Cynical this may be, but when it comes to puzzling out North Korea, never underestimate the appetite for hard cash — whether in amounts big or small. North Korea’s regime has specialized over the years in wringing every possible dollar out of every feasible racket, from missile deals to counterfeiting U.S. currency to selling narcotics out of North Korean embassies to diverting for its own uses international aid that was meant for starving North Korean children. This is part of how the Pyongyang regime survives.
That is what came to mind while I was reading today about North Korea’s warning to foreign diplomats to consider leaving Pyongyang before April 10. Though, before I explain, please allow me to add that of course, Pyongyang may have had much bigger reasons to issue this warning. North Korea’s barrage of threats in recent weeks — coupled with such matters as its February nuclear test, its proliferation links to Iran, and the inexperience of its third-generation young tyrant — has provoked all sorts of speculation about what’s really going on. Maybe this is an extreme version of North Korea’s time-tested nuclear extortion racket — prelude to seeking concessions at a bargaining table. Maybe it reflects young Kim’s efforts to consolidate power at home. Maybe the new dictator is so gung-ho, or so out of touch with reality, that he really thinks it’s a good idea — almost as thrilling as a visit from Dennis Rodman — to provoke a hot war. Maybe he’s not really in charge, and the threats are emanating from an internal struggle we can’t see. Maybe, maybe… Though whatever is going on in the big picture, to credit the Pyongyang regime with kindly concern for the welfare of foreign diplomats just doesn’t wash; this is a state that doesn’t mind hanging on to foreigners it has forcibly abducted from their home countries.