There may be an excessive focus, though, on North Korea’s flamboyant, provocative measures and not enough on the more encouraging gestures that sometimes occur alongside those provocations. It’s understandable to regard with alarm North Korean threats to turn Seoul into “a sea of fire,” or to devastate US cities, even though Pyongyang has made similar wild threats on numerous occasions in the past. But there are also signs that such saber rattling is not the whole story. There are subtle and inconclusive, yet intriguing, indications that new North Korean leader Kim Jong‐Un may be serious about wanting his country to join the international community and benefit from diplomatic and economic integration. At a minimum, the United States and the nations of East Asia should probe to see whether the hints of reform and conciliation are real instead of just assume that Pyongyang will forever remain a rogue actor.
Kim Jong‐Un seems to want a different course for his country than the insular strategy that his grandfather and father embraced. Kim’s New Year’s address called for a “radical turn” in North Korea’s domestic economic policies, and expressed a desire to unleash an “industrial revolution” that would seek to improve the standard of living for the North Korean people. That approach was in marked contrast to the emphasis on “Juche” (national self reliance) which was the hallmark of the economic strategy that both Kim Il‐Sung and Kim Jong‐Il pursued throughout their reigns. Boosting the living standards of ordinary North Koreans certainly was never a priority for those previous governments. The military always had first claim on, and received the lion’s share of, the country’s meager economic output. Outright famine occurred in the countryside during especially lean years.