North Korea: Selling Political Deception


Jan 3, 2020

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) in this undated photo released on December 28, 2019, photo by KCNA/Reuters

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaks during the 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea in this undated photo released December 28, 2019

Photo by KCNA/Reuters

This commentary originally appeared on The National Interest on January 3, 2020.

Korea watchers have been surprised that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un failed to provide a 2020 New Year's address, as he has done in the past. Instead, he has apparently substituted, without explanation, a report of the North Korean Workers' Party Plenary meeting completed on December 31.

This report continues the North Korean regime's long-term pattern of characterizing the United States as the enemy of the North Korean people. It characterizes the United States as waging a cruel war against the North Korean people. This is not new; the North Korean regime has long sought to portray the United States as a scapegoat for many of the regime's failures. It also allows the regime to rally the North Korean people to achieve victory against their enemy.

And thus, the North Korea regime has once again justified and explained itself by using deception. Indeed, North Korea has described itself as a “workers' paradise” when in reality North Korean workers live an impoverished life while suffering from brutal political control. The report includes other deception, such as claiming that the North Korean public health system is “best in the world,” an extreme deception. The North Korean regime appears to use such deceptions to maintain control and avoid internal dissent.

The specifics of the North Korean regime's deceptions, intermingled with some truth, offer important insights on the regime's thinking and attitude toward the United States and toward North Korean denuclearization. The regime's deceptive vilification of the United States reflects the regime's paranoia: “The DPRK–U.S. stand-off which has lasted century after century…”, the United States has applied “the most brutal and inhuman sanctions … over the past seven decades,” and the United States has made North Korea the “target of its preemptive nuclear strike.”

Of course, the biggest deception is that the sanctions and pressure on North Korea are solely from the North's claimed enemy, the United States. The report never once mentions the United Nations having implemented many of the sanctions on North Korea, or that the sanctions are punishments for rogue behavior that, if terminated, would lead to sanctions removal. Kim cannot let his people know that the international community, and not just the United States, find his provocations unacceptable…

The remainder of this commentary is available at

Bruce W. Bennett is a senior defense analyst at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.