Way Too Much to Do About Nothing

Yesterday’s blitz of stories about the North Korean statement on denuclearization was the latest example of how the media and instant pundits are quick to cherry-pick statements by Pyongyang, highlight what they think will get attention, and stampede to the wrong conclusions.

The New York Times headline out of Seoul trumpeted, “‘Denuclearization’ Given New, Broader Definition.” Twitter pundits cited the North Korean statement as proof that Pyongyang is not serious about giving up its weapons. Still others noted that the North wants more than a pound of flesh—the end of US alliances in Northeast Asia—in order to denuclearize. In fact, none of these conclusions are right.

Unfortunately, North Korean official pronouncements do not lend themselves to today’s fast-paced social media driven world that produces instant and often hasty commentary. Analysis of these statements is an art form that few experts can do and even fewer have tried to master. It requires deep knowledge not only of the varied levels of authority different sources may have, but also that every North Korean official statement must be viewed in the context of previous ones dating back months, if not years.

This pattern of instant and inaccurate analysis has repeated itself over and over again. And once the damage has been done, it often cannot be undone, as focus moves quickly to the next breaking story. The result is a misinformed public debate about a critical war and peace issue.

Fighting this tide is difficult, but that is one reason 38 North exists, to provide informed analysis of events in and around North Korea by experts with real experience. Towards that end, while we realize that headlines have already shifted to the latest story to break, the implications of Secretary of Defense Mattis’ resignation, we offer an informed analysis of the December 20 North Korean statement on denuclearization.

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