DPRK::Psychological Operations

By: R. Kaeru – June 25, 2015

 Secrecy is the strength of the DPRK government and its activities which is an integral part to North Korean and Kim Jong-un’s plausible deniability in the international community on their activities and intent, and against the national civilian population north of the 38th parallel.  Authoritative governments use propaganda to develop an idealized image of leadership (e.g. revolutionary leader and father figure) whereby the DPRK is unique because it only promotes the nepotistic Kim family and its hereditary lineage.  As part of IO psychological operations (PSYOP) aims to induce or reinforce, inform and influence a target audience’s attitudes and behaviors favorable to the sponsor’s objectives.  The use of propaganda has maintained the nation-states internal and external status quo.  Therefore, control of information is North Korea’s only true power.  The type of information portrayed in PSYOP and propaganda is usually truthful but can be fabricated.  PSYOP tasks include development, design, production, distribute, disseminate, and evaluation or ‘equity review’ for measures of effectiveness as a continuous cycle.  Most PSYOP activities are at the Operation and Tactical Levels; Strategic Level elements target economic, political, information, and military infrastructures as strategic communications and public diplomacy.  More specifically, the DPRK’s Strategic Level PSYOP campaign appears to focus on strategic communications and public diplomacy; although, the DPRK focuses its Operational Level PSYOP to hide its nuclear proliferation activities.  Operational and Tactical level PSYOP is critical in the short term but the Strategic Level is the long term battle.

 PSYOP Analysis: Strategic Communication

 Analysis of open source information (OSINT) on the DPRK and Kim Jong-un reveals clear patterns in Strategic Level PSYOP activities.  The DPRK is successful in hiding much of the government’s intent and nefarious activities to the international audience through strategic communications (STRATCOMM) and public diplomacy (PUBDIP).  We will discuss each one separately and provide dialog for critical thinking.  Another clear pattern the DPRK exhibits is that the STRATCOMM and PUBDIP are polar opposites.  For example, DPRK STRATCOMM is aggressive in nature whereas its PUBDIP is passive and conformative.  On one hand, the DPRK and Kim Jong-un employ STRATCOMM through a single authoritative channel which gives the illusion that all information is legitimate.  Humans naturally identify “truth” with authority and will have a sense of duty to conform to that authority.  The DPRK and Kim Jong-un historically attempt to portray the nation as a strong independent but dangerous nuclear state from which the world should listen to and give them what they want.  They also wish to create a world image that they are a formidable democracy and superpower which rivals all other democracies in the international community; more specifically, the United States, Western Europe, and Russia.  Changing the nation-state’s name to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1948 and establishing elite titles to government officials such as Eternal President, Supreme Leader, Supreme People’s Assembly, and Premiers, are key to the DPRK’s PSYOP campaign in establishing authority.   The Country is neither a democracy nor a republic where the people have the power.  A central theme to the PSYOP campaign in their military objectives is the government’s Juche ideology, established by Kim Il-sung where the key components include strength, revolution, independence, self-reliance, and self-defense.

In particular, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) is a pipeline for DPRK and Kim Jong-un’s PSYOP campaign.  STRATCOMM originate through this channel systematically and aimed at their targets.  A comprehensive analysis from dozens of KCNA articles between 2010 and 2013 revealed patterns in the DPRK’s PSYOP campaign.  As mentioned previously herein the use of specific language to describe the U.S. and its allies was a factor.  One common theme was the use of the word puppet and ‘marionette’ to manipulate an image of U.S. control over South Korean government.  Other language targeted the U.S. as the imperialists.  A recent report ties the U.S. and ROK together as enormous ‘nuclear’ ‘forces’ which are ‘north-targeted’.  This article mentions the continued Joint U.S.-South Korean naval exercises.  In this article puppet was mentioned 3-times, war was mentioned 7-times, nuclear references were mentioned 3-times, north-targeted 2-times, and concludes that the reasoning for the allied exercises is allegedly in response to the DPRK’s hardliner on strengthening its economic infrastructure through pursuing its nuclear independence.   Peripheral reports from outside organization analysis confirmed specific changes in patterns or confirmed others.  For example, on one hand the DPRK threat rhetoric escalated for the first time in March 2010 to its use of “nuclear strikes” against U.S., ROK, and their allies to prevent collapse of the regime.  On the other hand North Korea limited its outside contacts when the state shut down a South Korean financed resort company in Mount Kumgang despite during internal domestic need.  This event indicates a real warning of crisis which could have been stopped by the highest bidder.    DPRK PSYOP seeks to create specific negative images of the U.S.-ROK relationship, deflect national attention from humanitarian crisis, and keep open relations with natural enemies to the United States.

A peripheral influence which the DPRK and Kim Jong-un may be affected by is a social proof weapon-of-influence employed by the ROK government.  Looking for one specific piece of information could satisfy their intrinsic prejudice to confirm what they want to perceive, even if it is not the truth.  Propaganda seeks to exploit this phenomenon through various communication channels.  For example, while South Korean officials promote their independence and sovereignty to handle to DPRK issues, North Korea may be reacting in an ‘Ah-ha! See, we are too powerful to be attacked and we are a nation to be heard’ mentality.  This would certainly be a driving force in their STRATCOMM machine.

The South Korean government’s message may even be part of its own PSYOP campaign to keep world powers from attacking the DPRK physically, and maintain control through Seoul.  ROK television dramas are a free source of PSYOP which are directed to DPRK TV radio wave spectrums unencrypted in an attempt to exploit the type of lifestyle the North civilian population could/should have, but do not because of the DPRK elite control over information, education, and resources.   On other occasions South Korean messages seem to support an independent North Korea.  For example, a South Korean news organization reported the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have recommended the North Korean ancient capital city’s relics in Gaeseong from the Goreyo Kingdom as “a place worth international attention and preservation”.  The DPRK would love to gain legitimacy for these historic sites through the international community (i.e. UN) because of the historical significance Gaeseong and the Goreyo Kingdom has as a symbol of struggle against external forces and independence.   As mentioned previously in this paper, the DPRK and Kim family have been systematically portraying an image of struggle against outside forces (Japan and South Korea through U.S. proxy) and spiritual independence through Juche philosophy.

Public Diplomacy

 On the other hand, the DPRK expresses certain information through public diplomacy, eventually submitting to multi-lateral talks with the U.S. and other world leaders in an attempt to ease sanctions on the country and gain access to needed resources.  This easing of the country’s aggressive posturing seems to give the image Kim Jong-un can be friendly, diplomatic, and reasonable, a pattern started by his father Kim Jong-il.  The DPRK and Kim Jung-un have continued to target both the international community and national perceptions of the state of their nation.  Japan, ROK and the U.S., and the UN seem to be the valued international targets for offensive PSYOP; whereas China and Russia may be more of a defensive PSYOP campaign.  The DPRK PSYOP seems to focus on maintaining relations with Communist governments such as China and Russia for support, while posturing against Japan, South Korea, and the United States for independence.  DPRK PSYOP appears to influence domestic fear by projecting a constant message of imminent invasion by the United States.  Typical overt courses of action (COA) North Korea employs against its adversaries include nuclear tests, military exercises, offers for negotiations and cries for foreign aid such as food, and unlimited national and mass media propaganda.

Measure of Performance

 Measures of Performance (MOP) are metrics tools which evaluates performance during an event.  MOP metrics on DPRK PSYOP may be too illusive to properly identify through open-source intelligence efforts at this time.  However, monitoring DPRK news channels such as Korean Central News Agency, Rodong.Rep.KP, Naerana and NK New.org, as well as nationally devoted websites such as Korean Friendship Association are key to measuring the systematic rhetoric and image the Kim family and North Korean government officials seem to wish to project on its audience.  For example, these PSYOP channels project positive images within the DPRK while projecting negative images of U.S., South Korea, and Japan.  Monitoring other foreign news channels such as The Korean Herald, The Japan Times, and BBC News as well as independent, presumably South Korean websites such as North Korea Leadership Watch does provide an insight as to what the international community perceives and this can be measured against DPRK channels for comparison or differences.  North Korean PSYOP must support the overall military objective and have observable endpoints which are measurable.

Measure of Effectiveness

 Measures of Effectiveness (MOE) are metrics tools which evaluate the after action endpoints of an event.  Any type of accurate and systematic MOE to evaluate DPRK PSYOP has proven extremely difficult given the fact that human behavior is traditionally so unpredictable in these types of evaluations.  A MOEs indicator list could include, but may not be limited to, maintaining effective national and international perceptions of secrecy, keeping the Kim family lineage intact, and receiving foreign aid when the DPRK relaxes an aggressive posture.  A non-effective MOE indicator list could include the actual international perception of economy and perceived strength of their Army.  National perception is difficult to vet since DPRK open-source information all reveal strengths in all the aforementioned indicators.  North Korean choice of Juche philosophy has kept the state isolated from international markets and contributed to its economic decline.  Overall, it does appear through reviews of literature and media articles and reports that the North Korean PSYOP campaign does appear to be successful in generally controlling external and internal perceptions through government control.

All Rights Reserved. Views and opinions expressed in are solely those of the author.

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