The Interview is a comedy film that portrays the leader of the nation of North Korea in a negative light. Recently, issues surrounding the film have garnered a great deal of public attention as a result of North Korea’s response to the film and the United States’ counter response The purpose of this sample essay provided by Ultius, is to discuss the relationship between this film and U.S. foreign policy.
The Interview and its relationship with U.S. foreign policy
The essay will begin with a description of the events surrounding the film, and then it will describe the process that was used in order to connect events with North Korea. After this, it will outline the United States’ response to North Korea concerning the film. Finally, the essay will reflect on these events in light of broader U.S. foreign policy and consider the implications for the relationship between the United States and North Korea.
Events surrounding the film The Interview
In truth, a quick search of reviews would seem to indicate that The Interview is probably a mediocre film at best; taken in and of itself, its aesthetic significance would likely not have been enough to gain it any extraordinary degree of attention. The reason that the film has become so important in the news is because hackers stole information from Sony Pictures, a division of Sony Electronics and threatened to perpetrate terrorists attacks against theaters that proceeded with showing The Interview.This resulted Sony
“canceling The Interview’s planned theatrical release in response to all major US theater chains deciding to not show the film after attacks were threatened” (Kastrenakes, paragraph 1).
In essence, the theaters were intimidated by the threat of attacks; and caught between the options of either ignoring the threat or knowingly putting employees and moviegoers in potential danger, they opted not to refrain from showing the film. Sony then in turn opted to not release the film.
Upon becoming aware of this situation, President Obama was infuriated. In essence, he found it unacceptable that American businesses decided to make decisions on the basis of a fear of terrorists. Among other things, it would set bad precedent and give other potential terrorists the impression that they could in fact use their tactics in order to produce real effects.
One point of clarification here that may be in order is that it was thus not Sony per se that was responsible for the decision. As the CEO of Sony has put it:
“We experienced the worst cyberattack in American history and persevered for three and a half weeks under enormous stress and enormous difficulty. All with the effort of trying to keep our business up and running and get the movie out to the public” (Francis, paragraph 7).
In truth, Sony’s decision was not a primary response to the threat of terrorist attacks itself; rather, it was a secondary response to the decision made by theaters to not show the film. Properly speaking, it would be the theater chains and not Sony itself that would be primarily responsible for capitulating to tactics of intimidation.
The Interview’s association with North Korea
There was, of course, strong prima facie reason for associating the hackers and terrorist threats with North Korea. The film in question openly mocks the leader of North Korea; indeed, the film even contains a key character who shares the very name of the leader; no effort was even made to fictionalize the association in any way. Moreover, the plotline of the film culminates with the gruesome death of this character.
At the very least, this would surely be offensive to the sensibilities of almost all the members of any given nation: after all, Americans would unlikely to react favorably to a film produced by a foreign nation that not only mocked their President but went so far as to portray his death. This basic issue is exacerbated when one bears in mind that North Korea is a totalitarian society, with the leader bearing the title of “Supreme Leader” and enjoying a kind of quasi-divine status within his nation. Therefore, if anyone had serious motivation for threatening theaters that agreed to show The Interview, it would clearly be groups within North Korea itself.
Moreover, this face-value suspicion has been confirmed by further cryptographic analysis. According to Schmidt, Perlroth, and Goldstein:
“The F.B.I’s director, James B. Comey, said on Wednesday that the United States had concluded that North Korea was behind the destructive attacks on Sony Pictures partly because the hackers failed to mask their location when they broke into the company’s servers” (paragraph 1).
Ordinarily, hackers use decoy servers or other tools in order to disguise the source of their cyberattacks, in order to maintain anonymity and thereby avoid repercussions for criminal activities. In the case under consideration, however, the hackers failed to do this, which allowed analysts to directly trace the IP addresses of the hackers to North Korea. From a cybersecurity perspective, this could be called a quite elementary error; and one is almost surprised by the lack of sophistication it betrays on the part of hackers. However, this becomes more understandable in light of the fact that the Internet in North Korea (like much else within the nation) is in a state of underdevelopment relative to Western norms.
Response of the United States
In late December 2014, reports began to emerge that North Korea was suffering from an Internet blackout. Naturally, the inference was generally made that this was the work of the United States. For one thing, the timing was uncanny: the blackout happened shortly after the hack of Sony; and moreover, it followed on the heels of Obama promising that the United States would deliver a “proportional” response as retribution against the hackers (Frizell, paragraph 1).
This hypothesis has been neither confirmed nor denied by the U.S. government, with press requests having been met with the standardized reply that the government’s cybersecurity operations are (and have always been) deemed highly classified. However, it has been noted that the specific form of attack that had caused the Internet blackout, which consists of essentially flooding the network with traffic until it collapses, would be consist with how the U.S. government would proceed if it were perpetrate an attack (see Frizell).
On the other hand, there is also reason to doubt that the United States would resort to such tactics in addressing the problem. Among other things, North Korea’s connection to the Internet in the first place is of such low quality that it would be almost negligible; knocking the nation off the worldwide web would thus require no high level of sophistication; indeed, a clever teenager could probably do it. As Craft has put it:
“A takedown of the North Korean internet, at any rate, is viewed as a largely empty gesture, given the utter insignificance of the Hermit Kingdom’s digital universe: Only about 1,000 to 1,500 members of North Korea’s members of North Korea’s elite—in a country of 25 million—have access” (paragraph 6).
In a sense, if the United States was really behind the attack, then this would be almost juvenile. Then again, it would in fact have high symbolic significance for Americans, insofar the average American is likely to assume that the Internet is as important to everyone else as it is to him. An Internet blackout would thus strike him as a momentous event.
What U.S. foreign policy has to do with The Interview
There is admittedly still debate over whether North Korea was in fact responsible for the Sony hack, just as there is debate over whether the United States was responsible for the Internet blackout. From a U.S. foreign policy perspective, however, the most important point would seem to be not the truth of the situation but rather the simple fact that the United States almost certainly wanted to believe that North Korea was responsible for the Sony hack. This is because such a “fact” would fit extremely well with the emerging paradigm of the United States’ escalating sense of antagonism against North Korea.
As Symonds has put it, ”
the United States seems to have a basically “militarist” attitude toward North Korea, with some leading foreign policy analysts and advisors going so far as the explicitly state that the real objective would be ‘ending North Korea’s existence as an independent entity and reunifying the Korean peninsula'” (paragraph 8).
In this context, the dispute surrounding The Interview can be seen as one moment in the broader conflict between the agendas of the United States and North Korea. By now, it could perhaps even be somewhat irrelevant whether North Korea was “really” behind the Sony hack, insofar as the consequences of this assumption have essentially begun to to take on a life all of their own and shape the international relations environment.
Snyder has provided an effective summary of the general contours of the United States’ general relations with North Korea. One of the fundamental points of real conflict between the two nations consists of North Korea’s insistence on pursuing a nuclear technology program and the United States insistence on the nonproliferation of such technology.
The Obama administration began with a willingness to cooperate; then it shifted into a strategy of patient waiting; and antagonisms have since developed at least in part as a result of the progress of North Korea’s nuclear program. The general consensus is that South Korea and China would need to fulfill important roles if North Korea were to become integrated into the region in a healthier way in the future.
In any event, the current relationship between North Korea and the United States is characterized by a high level of tension; and in this context, it can be suggested that conflict over The Interview has added fuel to the fire.
It is unclear as of yet whether this conflict will have any serious long-term consequences, or whether this will fade away soon enough as little more than an interesting diversion that fails to have serious effects on world history.
North Korean implications
The above discussion has described the events surrounding The Interview, their association with North Korea, and the U.S. response to those events; and it has also reflected on the implications of the events for U.S. foreign policy. In order to properly understand the significance of the conflict over The Interview, it is clearly necessary to be at least somewhat aware of the broader general antagonism between the United States and North Korea.
The conflict over The Interview is not “just” about a film; rather, it should be understood as a specific occasion that has been taken advantage of by the United States in order to express its more general hostility toward North Korea. In the same way that two people who want to get into a fight will almost certainly find something, anything, to fight over, it can be suggested that the conflict over The Interview has greater significance than what would be implied by just that specific conflict. This is because it is also an occasion for the expression of a broader conflict.
Again, it would seem to be too soon to determine whether the conflict over The Interview will end up having sizable world-historical significance. If it did, though, then this would simply be because this conflict would serve as the last straw, so to speak. If any further international developments were to result from this, it would be inaccurate to say that it was all caused by something as trivial as a mediocre film.
Rather, the present conflict is one manifestation of a deeper history of conflict, which can ultimately be traced to North Korea’s nuclear program and international isolation and even further back to the Cold War, of which the division of the Korean Peninsula has itself been one of the lasting consequences. This context would help reveal the actual proportions of the present conflict surrounding The Interview.
Council on Foreign Relations. “U.S. Policy toward North Korea.” Jan. 2013. Web. 9 Jan. 2015. .
Craft, Lucy. “North Korea Watchers Ponder Possible U.S. Role in Web Outage.” CBS. 23 Dec. 2014. Web. 9 Jan. 2014. .
Francis, David. “Obama Hammers Sony for Pulling ‘The Interview’.” Foreign Policy. 19 Dec. 2014. Web. 9 Jan. 2015. .
Frizell, Sam. “North Korea Suffers Internet Blackout.” Time. 22 Dec. 2014. Web. 9 Jan. 2014. .
Kastrenakes, Jacob. “Sony Cancels The Interview Release after Theaters Pull Out.” The Verge. 17 Dec. 2014. Web. 9 Jan. 2015. .
Schmidt, Michael S., Nicole Perlroth, and Matthew Goldstein. “F.B.I. Says Little Doubt North Korea Hit Sony.” New York Times. 7 Jan. 2015. Web. 9 Jan. 2015. .
Symonds, Peter. “The Militarist Agenda behind Washington’s Confrontation with North Korea.” World Socialist Web Site. 29 Dec. 2014. Web. 9 Jan. 2015. .