Sunday, January 26, 2014

Their Rational is Not Our Rational

The danger of mirror-imaging enemies (or just people outside of your group, really) can lead you astray. If war or peace hang in the balance, your decisions could be worthless.

This answer at the end of a press briefing by PACOM commander Samuel J. Locklear III to the question of the admiral's view of North Korea's Kim Jong Un is worrisome:

Well, I think that the young leader is -- for me is very difficult to determine -- in fact, unpredictable, I believe, is the best -- best way I've seen. I think that his behavior, at least the way it's reported and the way we -- the way we see it and sense it, makes me -- makes you -- would make me wonder whether or not he is always in the rational decision-making mode or not. And this is a problem.

Kim Jong Un is a mystery. But is he really "unpredictable"? Or is he just being predictable in ways that are alien to us? It is always a mistake to analyze rationality by what makes sense to us--mirror imaging.

We need to define North Korean rationality the way Kim Jong Un will define it. We may think it makes no sense for North Korea to attack South Korea, because the end result will be the destruction of the North Korean regime and probably the state itself.

But if Kim Jong Un believes that internal difficulties will absolutely lead to the destruction of the North Korean regime or state, it might be completely rational for the rulers to decide that attacking South Korea even if there is a 95% chance of failure is in fact the rational decision.

After all, why would the regime care if lots of North Koreans die in a war? The North Korean regime kills lots of North Korea in peace time. If North Korea can throw a scare into South Korea by just starting a war--or starting a crisis that North Korea believes won't escalate to war--the North Koreans could rationally believe that this path would start the money flowing into North Korea again, allowing North Korea to keep their people quiet.

And if the regime thinks the army isn't as loyal as it should be, it is two birds with one stone--get the aid by going to war and kill off a lot of the army in the war.

Heck, after "losing" the war, the North Korean regime could execute suspect generals for losing the war.

The problem is, the North Korean regime sees their continued rule and luxurious lifestyles as the objectives--not the North Korean nation. That's just the means to perpetuate their rule and their lifestyle.

I'm not sure what to do about this problem of mirror imaging. Subject experts seem to go native in many cases, making them too sympathetic to provide good advice on how to beat the nation they devoted their lives to studying and knowing.

And the general political tendencies of those who gravitate to these country and people studies is a problem. Remember when military efforts to study the "human terrain" of our campaigns led to outrage that the talents of these academics was being used to defeat our enemies? Enemies who are brutal and murderous and hateful at a scale that should make them beyond our sympathies?

We need to know our enemies. And know they are enemies.