How seriously should the West be taking North Korean threats?

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, centre, has threatened a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the U.S., but the international community is unclear what the secretive nation's nuclear capabilities are. (KCNA via KNS/File/Associated Press)

First aired on Day 6 (05/05/13)

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Throughout the past weeks, military rhetoric from North Korea has ratcheted up dramatically with the secretive nation issuing threats and pulling its workers from the Kaesong industrial complex it jointly runs with the South. South Korea's foreign minister, Yun Byung-se, said he believes the prospect of a North Korean missile test launch is "very high."

This isn't the first time that Pyongyang has set the rest of the world on its guard, and some political analysts see the country's recent belligerence as nothing more alarming than their previous threats. But North Korean history expert B.R. Myers, author of The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why it Matters, says officials in the West should be taking these actions seriously.

"I think we should be taking it seriously for the reason that this is not a communist state," Myers told Day 6 during a recent interview. "You think back to the Cuban missile crisis -- it was possible for Khrushchev to back down from that because a communist state does not derive all of its legitimacy from the public perception of its military strength. What you have in North Korea is a military-first state where it's a regime that's basically recused itself of responsibility for economic affairs, and what that means is the government's image and prestige is completely wrapped up in military and nuclear affairs, which makes it a lot more difficult for them to back down."

cleanest-race-book-cover-120.jpgWhat makes North Korea even more dangerous, Myers argues, is the country's far-right ideology. He's studied the isolated country's propaganda and history texts for years and see's an "ultra-nationalism" permeating from Pyongyang.

"What you have in North Korea really crosses the line. This is a country where pregnant women who return from China have to have abortions; otherwise they'll dilute the pure blood line."

It's interesting because unlike, say, the Nazi ideal of the Aryan master race, Myers says that the North Korean ideal of purity doesn't necessarily stem from a conviction that they're physically or mentally superior to other ethnicities. They do, however, believe their pure bloodlines makes them morally superior to other peoples, particularly Americans, where the mixing of blood and cultures has been occurring for most of the country's history.

"What that means really is that their hostility to the outside world is implacable, and their mistrust of the outside world cannot be assuaged by goodwill gestures and concessions," Myers said. "This is why the North Koreans remain as hostile to the outside world as ever."

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