The curious case of North Korea

  1. Overview

North Korea, considered to be one of the last communist regimes on earth and one of the most secretive; was seen with a certain curiosity and fun how such a ‘self isolated’ country survives in a globalized world like the one we have today. North korea was originally united with her “sister” South Korea being a single Korea, however as a result of the cold war in 1948 they were split in two, with two separate governments.

However that division was never really accepted by both Koreas, each one of them believed they had the legitimacy to govern all Korea. This friction escalated, and on 25 June 1950 North korea, supported by the communist regimes of China and Soviet Union, moved south and started what would be called as the Korean war. On 27 June, 21 countries from UN constituted an UN force, with the vast majority being american troops, to help the south korea against what was considered to be the communist faction (north korea, soviet union and china). The war would last 3 years with more than 2 million fatalities, the most being South and Northern Korean soldiers.

After that the North and South became more distant than ever. The North allied with China and Soviet Union – the communist faction, while South Korea became an ally of US, Japan and other UN member states. This alliance with the communist factions was really important, not only in terms of geopolitics and defense against the south korean allies, but also as a source of financing since the Soviet Union was a major source of money for the North Korean communist regime. This alliance however would get weaker, as Deng Xiaoping became the 1st chinese leader to visit the US in an attempt to open it’s country to the outside and foreign investment what would be called China’s capitalist revolution. In 1991 came the collapse of the soviet union, which was a major source of financing to North Korean regime. The combination of these events led to the isolation of the North Korean regime and its continuing closure.

As many people state this country is not simply a communist state as it represents the mixture of communist ideology, nationalism, Juche and Songun philosophy. This combination was set up by what are considered to be “eternal leaders of north korea” Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il. The country fell in a repressive and authoritarian regime that used, and still continues to use nowadays with Kim Jong-Un, the cult of personality where everything that has been made or planned was an act of “divine intervention” by the supreme leaders.

It’s 25 millions inhabitants are believed to live under extreme poverty, that many human rights are violated – something it’s defectors tell to the outside world, and the fact that human rights organizations like International Amnesty do not get a permit to visit the country shows that these aren’t just rumors and western propaganda. Under the many accusations, it’s the fact that this is one of the few countries in the world who still conduct public executions, just for “committing the crime” of not agreeing with the regime and supreme leader.

 

  1. A rising threat

At first sight we are to believe we are in the presence of some crazy dictatorship that lives under the cult of personality, is a closed country that violates human rights but poses no threat to the world. However in 2006 that started to change as North Korea managed to carry out its first successful nuclear explosion, in 2009 it carried out its second and more powerful nuclear test. Subsequently, they continued with their research and tests but no one seemed to believe they were really making progress in terms of Nuclear power. Many said some of the nuclear warheads we see in North Korea military parades are made of paper, or that they had soviet technology that was completely outdated.

But since Kim Jong Un got in charge in 2011, their nuclear research and activity seemed to boost. Despite having a hard time in terms of economics, specially with the tougher economic sanctions, 16% of GDP is dedicated solely to military activity – having one of the largest paramilitary organizations (roughly 25% of the north korean population are military). By mid 2016 they started to show major developments which culminated with the launch of ICBM missiles this year during summer and the creation of what is supposed to be thermonuclear weapons, way more powerful than the nuclear bombs US launched on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945.

NorthKorea_Missile_testing_update_08.17-01

(source: Center for Strategic International Studies )

This obsession with military and nuclear power is above all the result of the Songun philosophy North korea has, which is basically “Military first policy”, in other words the state priority should be to achieve a powerful and mighty military force so no nation even thinks of challenging its regime. Something that Kim Jong Il saw happening in Iraq with US intervention in 2003, and regime change that led to the execution of Saddam Hussein and the execution of Gaddafi after he was overthrown in 2011. This was probably one of the reasons north koreans reconducted their nuclear research in 2003 after a 5 year break and in 2006 had their first nuclear weapon test with success.

Geographically speaking, we can see it as a “child trying to show he is a grown up as well”, its neighbours are all world leading economies China is the 2nd largest economy in the world, Japan the 3rd largest and South Korea, the eternal rival, is the 11th largest economy in the world according to the IMF and Work Bank data from 2016.

Unsurprisingly, the nuclear pursuit is used by the North Koreans as a show of force to their neighbours – in order to display that despite their languishing fiscal condition, the North remains a strong nuclear force to be beckoned with.

The reason behind North Korea’s constant show of force is simple. It’s used as a deterrent to their neighbours and helps consolidate their position in the area as a force to be beckoned with – despite their fiscal degradation.

Due to their isolationist attitude towards globalisation over the years, the North has constantly been at risk of falling into obscurity and nothingness. However, their strategy over the years has been simple – to remain in the news through whatever outlandish story they can pump out to the world. Thus they have constantly made outlandish claims of having found miraculous drugs to cure terminal illness amongst other things.

What initially remained a harmless yet comic display of faux aggression from the reclusive nation over the years, has slowly developed into something more sinister. The North’s experimentation with high grade Nuclear weaponry has alerted the international community.

The North’s lack of regard for the international community makes it a dangerous wildcard in a strategic location for the West. Whilst the North has nothing to lose from any of this, their maverick attitude towards conflict can have devastating effects on the world both in regards to trade and environmental reasons.

Recently, Japan endured incredibly large unnatural tremors due to what can only be guessed as military experimentation from their North Korean neighbours. This has further ramped up the need for the international community to band together in dealing with the North Korean threat.

The danger remains simple – North Korean recklessness with Nuclear and thermonuclear weaponry that is potentially beyond their capacity to control, put the whole region at the risk of an apocalyptic scenario where a fall-out causes millions of lives to be lost within minutes and global levels of catastrophes ensuing from the conflict. The lives would not only be lost by the military weapons used – but also from the environmental disasters that would follow. In recent years – we have come very close to seeing a nuclear melt down at the Fukushima Power Plant. This would undoubtedly trigger that and a whole load of similar scenarios.

But North Korea has now boldly made claims they have missile capabilities of reaching the US – which can be loaded with their new thermonuclear Hydrogen Bomb stronger than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s a scenario of the worst kind. Something that you only get to see glimpses of in apocalyptic action movies from Hollywood – but it’s now become a real possibility.

 

  1. Trump foreign policy

This brings into question what role America plays in dealing with this dangerous scenario. The North has remained a bone stuck in the throats of many previous Presidents – from the Bush father and son to Bill Clinton, Obama and now Trump.

Previously, despite the North being very vocal in their desires for Nuclear supremacy, there hasn’t been much of a display of aggression physically. Just a mere war of words – which previous Presidents have responded to with ridicule, humour, sanctions and other not too complicated means such as mediation through China and other regional partners.

However, with the election of Trump – a firebrand in the Oval Office. It seems Kim Jong Un has found his match. Both share similar characteristics of being outspoken, often outlandish and having little regard for diplomatic dialogue.

Despite Trump’s campaign focussing on establishing China as his enemy No. 1 for their trade malpractices and its impact on US economy. Ever since his election, Trump has had to change his direction. Softening his stance on China and trying to forge a friendly relation with President Xi Jinping. It is evident to the Trump administration that their best hopes of dealing with North Korean problem is by optimising China as a mediator – even if that means giving up some ground on the on-going fiscal war between China and the US to become the next fiscal Hegemony for the new age.

But the problem doesn’t end here for the Trump administration. The real issue here is that they lack a clear and coherent strategy or direction in regards to how they hope to deal with this crisis.

Despite Trump trying his best to cosy up to the Chinese – including his infamous anecdote about eating ‘Chocolate cake’ with President Xi while America launched missile strikes. Former Trump Election Chief Steve Bannon proudly went on record to ‘The Prospect’ stating that:

We’re at economic war with China,” he added. “It’s in all their literature. They’re not shy about saying what they’re doing. One of us is going to be a hegemon in 25 or 30 years and it’s gonna be them if we go down this path. On Korea, they’re just tapping us along. It’s just a sideshow.

Furthermore, Trump pledged to respond to North Korea with “Fire and Fury”. only to once again be contradicted by Bannon – who in the same interview, went on to say:

There’s no military solution [to North Korea’s nuclear threats], forget it. Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that ten million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.

Many would have argued that these views are Bannon’s own and thus he has subsequently been removed from office and relieved from his White House duties by President Trump.

However, it doesn’t end there. Trump’s Defence Tsar Nikki Haley at a UN Emergency Meeting regarding North Korea made the bold statement that; North Korea’s “Abusive use of missiles” displayed that Kim Jong II was “Begging for war”. Only to be followed by Trump’s Defence Secretary; General ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis briefing the Press at the White House through a self contradictory statement saying “We are not looking to the total annihilation of a country, namely North Korea, But as I have said, we have many options to do so.”

If this wasn’t enough, the President decided to take it one step further himself. In a display of having absolutely no clue at all in regards to dealing with international military conflict or the North Korean issue that is escalating, Trump decided to answer a reporter who shouted out a question to him as he was walking to his ride “Mr. President, will you attack North Korea”. Rather than remaining diplomatically coy about it like other statesmen and women would, Mr. Trump decided to break his stride, turn to the reporter and reply “We’ll see”. before smiling, waving and walking off again in true Trump fashion.

 

  1. Bottom Line

What remains certain is that whatever the real capability of Nuclear warfare that North Korea may possess, the threat is now more realistic than ever.

Despite the well known fact that North Korea has a habit of making exaggerated and outlandish claims, their recent test results display not only a real desire for the reclusive nation to develop, improve and create Nuclear warheads, but also display the fact they have finally refined their research and become capable of achieving their nuclear dreams.

This makes the scenario a very dangerous one for the international community as North Korea can no longer be dismissed as a Political Parody of a state with an eccentric but foolish leader, it is now a unhinged state with Nuclear capabilities – catapulting the world into a dangerous scenario.

Alongside this, what isn’t helping is President Trump’s approach of lacking a clear strategy and his constant displays of amateurish antics which can only be compared to Kim Jong Un.

The stark reality is that we live in a world where two egomaniacs are displaying their masculinity to each other through a war of crass rhetoric and insults. On one hand we have a cartoonish Dictator who revels in killing or jailing political opponents and anyone he sees as a threat to him – including students visiting his nation, and on the other hand we have a US President who takes to twitter 3am in the morning to insult those who oppose him with childish slurs. Yet these two men hold the codes to some of the most powerful Nuclear artillery in the world.

 

Luís Carvalho, Graduates of Democracy Editor in Chief

Mu-hamid Pathan, Graduates of Democracy President

 

Disclaimer: This article reflects the author’s opinion it might not reflect the whole group’s opinion

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