North Korean Nuclear Test: Is Kim Jong-Un the World's Biggest Geopolitical Troll?

Has North Korea been reading too many Internet forums?

I only ask because if one looks at North Korea’s recent actions, it seems as if the country has become the world’s geopolitical troll.

For the unitiated, a troll is, in summation, someone who posts a provocative comment on an Internet website with the purpose of inciting an emotional response. Sometimes it’s on the reported topic, sometimes not – all that really matters is that the person trolling grabs the attention of readers.

The definition seems pretty fitting for North Korea at the moment. In December, North Korea successfully tested its first long-range missile, which the United Nations Security Council then proceeded to condemn. In what seems like a natural response only for North Korea, it responded to the UN resolution by conducting its third nuclear test, claiming that it successfully tested a "miniaturized" version not used in previous tests.

The response from the countries on the UN Security Council, including China, was one of alarm. In response, the Security Council passed another round of sanctions in order to punish North Korea for its nuclear test. Of course, North Korea has decided that it would ratchet up its rhetoric, saying that the country will nullify the armistice agreement that suspended Korean War hostilities, and, in perhaps its pièce de résistance, threatened the U.S. with a pre-emptive nuclear strike.

Will North Korea attempt to launch a nuclear strike at the U.S.? Of course not. For starters, it does not have the technology to do so, and even if it tried, the country would be signing its own death warrant. What it does, however, is two things: it puts North Korea at the center of the world’s attention and creates further enmity against the nation.

This may be, in some sense, what North Korea wants. The country’s propaganda thrives on its "us against the world" mentality. By making such statements and actions, North Korea is almost assured an international response, which in turn allows the country to spread in its propaganda the idea that the North is both a victim and a hero, standing up to the evil Americans and their allies. In short, it gets what a troll gets out of luring someone into an inflammatory conversation: an unfounded feeling of satisfaction and self-importance.

Obviously, we cannot just ignore North Korea. This is, after all, still a country that has nuclear weapons. The have also pushed the boundaries of the armistice agreement with South Korea, having previously sunk a South Korean naval vessel and fired artillery shells at a South Korean island.

Nevertheless, we should probably recognize that for North Korea, our response to their actions, no matter how level-headed, lets them feel relevant and, in their mind, helps to justify the country’s political theory of total self-reliance, otherwise known as juche. Conflict still does not seem likely. We may, however, just have to accept that, a couple times every year, we will be faced with the world’s largest diva, screaming for attention.

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Andrew Pasternak

Originally from Baltimore, MD, I graduated from Georgetown University in 2009 with a BA in History and a minor in Government. I recently returned from living in London, United Kingdom, having completed my MA in Intelligence and Security Studies at Brunel University. While maintaining a deep interest in domestic politics, my main areas of focus are defense, intelligence, and foreign policy.

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