This little Israeli prank in Iran reminded me of a conversation I had with my son about North Korea.
After the recent artillery attack against South Korea, my son asked why we just didn’t hammer them in response. I explained that (1) the North Koreans had most of Seoul under heavy artillery threat and (2) they were absolutely insane. A serious military attack might cause a wildly disproportionate retaliation that could cause the deaths of thousands of South Koreans.
I told him that I was always myself in favor of psyops. These types of regimes persist because they create a mythology of omniscience and omnipotence within their own population. Undermining that mythology can cause the state to collapse.
The North Koreans have this giant statue of the glorious leader in downtown Pyongyang. I’ve always thought that shooting a cruise missile right into the crotch of the statue would undermining the mythology and send a pointed message. However, even that might provoke a violent response. Moreover, the North Koreans quite clearly use external threats to justify their oppressive state to their own population. Attacking them violently might reinforce, instead of undermine, the mythology.
My son thought a moment and came up with a better idea: tagging, i.e., graffiti.
Rival street gains use tagging to mark territory. Tagging in another gang’s territory, especially if unanswered by a counter tag, severely diminishes the prestige and perceived power of the tagged gang. The fact that other gangs can enter their territory with impunity to commit acts of art signals that the targeted gang is weak.
My son suggested the same effect might hit dictatorial regimes as well. We could send in special forces teams to paint “America Rulz!” (in Korean) on visible structures throughout North Korea. The idea that Americans could land troops almost anywhere, for nothing more than a lark, would seriously undermine morale and the state’s mythology.
I am also reliably informed that North Korea’s air defenses are a joke so we could pull pranks like dropping dye into rivers to turn them purple. We could also drop leaflets and even windup radios like we did in Afghanistan.
All these actions would be non-violent and would make the North Koreans look stupid for responding violently, yet they would communicate to the people of North Korea that their government was a paper tiger.
In the contemporary world, we need to think of new solutions to old problems. Psyops directed at the ruling mythologies of dangerous nations, states or groups might prove more effective in the long run than overt force. Those mythologies thrive on attacks from outsiders. By responding violently, we communicate that we view them as a serious threat. That alone raises the perceived power and status of the group under attack.
These regimes can withstand anything but mockery. Demonstrating that we view them more as childish nuisances than dire threats would hurt more than bomb attacks. Mocking laughter and humiliation are the most potent weapons we can bring to bear against them.