The media has been really hyping up North Korean aggression lately. Why the world is so intent on giving the N. Koreans air time is so beyond me. You would think that this kind of behavior from them is a new development.
The media would have you think that war is most definitely near. What’s wrong with that thinking? That’s exactly what North Korea wants you to think. They want constituents scared and politicians nervous. North Korea has no intention of invading the South and even less to fire off a pre-emptive nuclear weapon. It’s all a game to force negotiations, gather support, and create panic. Fear leads to negotiation and that’s the name of the game in Pyongyang.
Nuclear Programs – Not what they used to be
Let’s get something straight right now. An active nuclear program isn’t used today for what it was in the past. After WW2 the countries seeking nuclear weapons were doing so to guarantee survival. A nuclear bomb was the ultimate first strike weapon. Fear began an arms race that turned into a war of its own…the Cold War. Today, the thought of using nuclear weapons (biological and chemical as well) is so taboo that it serves as a worldwide rallying call to rise up against those making the threat. Want to fight the entire world? Use a nuclear, chemical, or biological weapon. Sure they’ll inflict casualties, but they’ll be wiped off the face of the earth within a week. That’s why Syria’s Bashar al-Assad didn’t chem his own people. He didn’t need the world united in support of the Syrian opposition.
Here is what an active nuclear program does today (for rogue nations like Korea and Iran):
- Diversion – An active nuclear program gathers so much attention that it’ll divert eyes from something else. An example of this is when Iran wants to mask their intentions and actions in Syria. They’ll kick up rhetoric on their nuclear program. All attention focuses away.
- Negotiation – The threat of a nuclear weapon demands dialogue. In North Korea’s case the outside world has them in isolation. N. Korea is still in a state of war and under heavy world sanction. To improve their situation they absolutely must get people talking without looking weak. Their nuclear program does this.
Look at rogue state nuclear programs as a foreign policy tactic. Not as intent for a first strike weapon.
History repeats itself…
In 1953 the Armistice ended the Korean War. Make note that North Korea is still considered to be “at war”. The Armistice halted military action and formed the DMZ. That’s basically it. A peaceful solution to formally end the war was to be figured out later….but it never did.
From the 60’s to the 80’s North Korea saw rapid industrial growth. Things were looking up. During the 1970’s the North began to develop nuclear technology. The world wasn’t blind to this and in 1992 the UN demanded their inspectors have access to determine if North Korea had an active nuclear weapons program. The North was incredibly belligerent during this and refused access to several sites.
In 1994 tragedy hits North Korea but that tragedy would lead to a revelation that would shape their foreign policy from then until present day. President Kim Il-Sung would die and his son Kim Jong-Il would take control. Kim Jong-Il knew his country needed a boost and decided to leverage their nuclear program to gain ground. He offered to freeze their nuclear program in exchange for free fuel and a couple nuclear reactors. He must have been surprised when the United States took the bait.
From 1994 until present day it’s almost comical. Every time disaster strikes North Korea or they need a boost they’ll threaten aggression or ramp up their nuclear program rhetoric. Take a look at this timeline and check out North Korea’s actions:
1996 – North Korea is brought to its knees by horrible famine. Severe floods ravage the country.
Reaction: North Korea (like it did this month!) announces that it will no longer abide by the Armistice and sends troops into the DMZ.
Intent: They needed help. Isolation was killing them. Dialogue opens up and the UN agrees to send food aid to help the famine victims. The DMZ troops withdraw.
1998 – North Korea launches a rocket that flies over Japan. They claim they were attempting to launch a satellite.
Intent: Again, they were hit unexpectedly hard in the famine and ensuing floods. It is agreed during negotiations that the UN will send in more food aid.
2001 – North Korea faces one of the biggest droughts in their history.
2002 – President Bush claims North Korea as part of the “Axis of Evil”.
Reaction: North Korea engages South Korean naval vessels at sea. 30-40 are reported dead.
Intent: North Korea saw a trigger happy United States that was willing to invade a country (Iraq) on the threat of NBC weapons. Realizing nuclear rhetoric would be too much they instead opt for a minor sea battle. The result: The Japanese send their Prime Minister to talk to Kim Jong-Il. (remember – the goal is to end the isolation and get people to talk)
2003 – North Korea lifts the veil on their secret nuclear weapons program. They then withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Intent: North Korea couldn’t afford to be labeled as an “Evil Nation”. They certainly couldn’t appear weak with the United States just looking for a reason to invade. This started a worldwide panic and negotiation talks were immediately set up in Beijing. This lasted though out 2004 until it was obvious that neither Washington nor Pyongyang were willing to give ground. Pyongyang leaves the table.
2005 – Sanctions continue to wreak havoc on the North Korean economy.
Reaction: North Korea offers to give up weapons in return for UN aid. They would later ask for another nuclear reactor.
2006 – Sanctions take more of an economic toll.
Reaction: Pyongyang test fires a long range missile. They would later claim to have tested their first nuclear weapon.
Intent: North Korea needed economic help. Due to these extreme developments the world was forced to open dialogue. At the end of the talks North Korea agreed to shut down their main nuclear reactor in exchange for fuel.
I could go on and on and bring this timeline up to date but it would look ridiculously repetitive. It’s the same thing year after year.
Don’t read too much into the North’s recent saber rattling. Always try and figure out “the why” when these things happen throughout the world. If countries like Iran or North Korea make an outrageous move look at what’s going on behind the scenes or in another direction. Figure out “the why”.
North Korea has been eroding from inside since the 1960’s. You have to give them credit though. They’ve been very effective in the use of aggression and their nuclear program in an attempt to improve their situation.
North Korea is playing a dangerous game. Someday they may push too hard and someone will get sick of it. Until then, the world needs to continue to bleed them economically. Don’t over react to their aggression like we have in the past. It’s all a ploy. The world’s policy needs to be to isolate them more every time they try these same old boring tactics. No concessions and no compromise outside of all out compliance. Anything more enables other countries such as Iran who have learned much from their North Korean mentors.