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George Vlahakis
University Communications

IU expert available to discuss events on Korean peninsula

June 4, 2009

An Indiana University faculty expert is available to comment on issues related to recent news that North Korea conducted its second nuclear bomb test, that it plans to test a long-range missile and that a successor to leader Kim Jong-il has been selected, as well as other developments on the Korean peninsula.


Threats part of a predictable pattern

Recent actions -- such as nuclear bomb and missile tests and threats made about nautical access to portions of the Yellow Sea -- are part of a now-predictable pattern between North Korea and the world, particularly the United States.

"They keep trying to make it different because -- since they keep 'crying wolf' all the time -- they have to keep shouting louder for people to be interested. This time, they've found some new wrinkles," said Michael Robinson, incoming chair of and a professor in the IU Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, who discounts news analysis about conflict between the two countries. "The issue's not so much the looming confrontation and the alerts, but what's the motive?"

Despite reports about North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il anointing his youngest son as his successor, Robinson said it will take considerable time for Kim Jong-un to be established in that role. "They had a full 20 years to install Kim Jong-il as the heir apparent to his father and to take over the cult. They don't have this kind of time, it's clear," he said. "We're in a new posture where the party is probably less important than the military and so it has to do with what the military wants." The South Korean government has taken a harder line against North Korea and has indicated that it would sign a United Nations resolution calling for sanctions. Ironically, the Obama administration's low-key approach -- a posture that is engaged but not overtly hostile -- may explain North Korea's increased belligerence. "They need confrontation with the U.S. to make some of this appear at least a little more rational. If you don't give it to them, it appears even more bizarre," Robinson said, adding that the North Korean rhetoric seems best intended for internal propaganda purposes. "They've declared that this is a military-first regime, and so the priority for everything is regime defense and survival. They never talk about the economy anymore."

Robinson is author of Korea's Twentieth-Century Odyssey: A Short History (University of Hawaii Press, 2007) and is best reached through e-mail at or through George Vlahakis at 812-855-0846.