AMAC Exclusive – By Ben Solis
Last month, North Korea once again launched ballistic missiles four thousand miles high into space, frightening South Koreans and forcing hundreds of Japanese to flee to bomb shelters. To effectively counter the growing ballistic nuclear missile threat from North Korea, President Biden and his administration should heed the lessons from the four-decade Cold War struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union that taught that the most potent weapon a totalitarian system possesses is not missiles or bombs, but the ideological system it has forged to persevere and facilitate absolute power. As President Ronald Reagan’s administration understood, victory over tyranny comes from a defeat of ideology, not physical armies.
While totalitarian leaders have long understood that their own ideology is their greatest tool in controlling a population, they have also understood that the ideology of free and democratic peoples is their greatest challenge. When the Soviet Union’s revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin first realized that the western democratic political order was resilient and appreciated by its citizens, he saw the need to undermine it if he was going to defeat it: thus, a party of a new type came forth.
Unlike its Western counterpart, which is an electoral platform comprised of a group of people aimed at promoting the best candidates for office to win elections, the Leninist party is dedicated to organizing the whole of society around an ideology that is a means to an end – to win and never willfully give up power.
The contest between Lenin’s totalitarian vision – and the western strategy to defeat it – was dramatically illustrated forty-one years ago this week, on December 13, 1981, when Polish communist prime minister and high military official Wojciech Jaruzelski led a military coup and imposed martial law across Poland, insisting with military force that Lenin’s road to revolutionary socialism is one-way with a ban on u-turns.
But neither the secret police carrying out thousands of nightly arrests, nor the ominously roaring tanks on the street were so damaging as the Leninist ideology that attacked the hearts and minds of Poles and the perfidious lies that once again became the norm in the media.
If not for the rhetoric of truth and liberty carried on broadcasts like Radio Free Europe and Voice of America, orchestrated as part of Ronald Reagan’s confrontation against the Soviets, the other half of the Poles would have also believed the martial law propaganda. Fortunately, Reagan’s strategy eventually helped Poles peacefully reconquer their freedom. On January 30, 1990, the Polish Communist Party dissolved itself in a symbolic walk-out under the banner.
Reagan’s strategy was successful because he trusted the American people who approved the strategy by regularly gathering to listen to his commentaries that targeted, as he put it, “difference in culture, morals and in the levels of civilization between the free world and communism”.
“When all you have to do to win is rely on the good judgment of the American people, then you’re in good shape—because the American people have good judgment,” Reagan declared.
Fast forward to November 18, 2022: intercontinental ballistic missile engines roared on Korea’s Peninsula as 85-foot-long missiles arced across the sky with Kim Jong-un in attendance. North Korea’s propaganda fumed ominously with contempt and hostility: “the ICBM was launched in an unacceptable situation – the reckless military-confrontational intrigues of hostile forces led by the United States.”
However, unlike in the 1980s under President Reagan or even two years ago under President Donald Trump, the Biden administration acts as if it doesn’t understand the ideological challenge. As Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze remarked, the core of the communist ideology that informed the Kremlin’s policies during the Soviet era was painting the nations of the entire world to appear as though they were the enemy of communism. North Korea’s leadership is animated by the same “siege mentality,” and Biden’s approach, focused on demilitarization alone, is doomed to fail because Pyongyang’s growing aggression is the consequence of its ideological system – a system that Biden has refused to confront.
This ideology has resulted in the destruction of the country’s economy, the crushing of dissent, partnering with like-minded totalitarian regimes, and threating regional and global security.
Biden fails to understand that a Leninist party depends on convincing its citizens that the West is determined to prey on their land, resources, and even their lives. As Dr. Chan Young Bang of the KIMEP University in Kazakhstan has noted, this is the foundation of North Korea’s foreign policy.
Informed by this worldview, a Leninist party rejects the free market and chooses an over-taxed, bureaucrat-dominated economic system that leads to waste and poverty. A command economy, in combination with astronomically high spending on internal security and the military, results in over-indebtedness and near starvation, while the party’s leadership blames the permanent crisis on the United States.
Proof of this was seen in Kim Jong-un’s statements the day of the missile launches last month. He explained that the launch was a response to “a genuine military threat from the United States,” and was needed to save country from the West which “is trying to disrupt peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the region.”
However, the truth about the destabilization is the exact opposite: North Korea, not the West, threatens peace and stability. But North Koreans, like the Poles once were, are subjected to the powerful propaganda of a communist regime. Citizens living on the edge of starvation and subject to the tyranny of a police state are told that their suffering is necessitated by the looming threat of the West.
Dr. Chan warns that once Pyongyang acquires modern nuclear weapons, its Leninist ideology will lead the regime to illegally proliferate nuclear weapons in the region, leaving no option but for neighbors like South Korea and Japan to also acquire such weapons, with even countries like Australia or New Zealand also being compelled to start their own nuclear weapon programs.
To effectively combat this threat, Biden and other Western leaders must make a commitment combat the ideology which underpins it, not just the weapons of mass destruction which result from it. Only then can the world begin to move toward a denuclearized Korean peninsula and a flourishing of peace and democracy in the region.
Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.
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