The five powerful recognized nuclear weapon states, which are the United States, Russian Federation, France, China, and the United Kingdom, often analyze the North Korea nuclear crisis from the perspective of international relations, global as well as regional security. The impact of the nuclear crisis on the North Korean internal circumstances appears to be ignored. Realizing North Korea’s economic conditions, the United States expects that North Korea will abandon its nuclear program in exchange for some economic assistance. North Korea, however, is not willing to show a positive attitude to economic sticks or carrots. In this respect, North Korean internal factors need to be analyzed more carefully in examining the nuclear crisis. This paper aims to examine the North Korean nuclear program from a perspective of North Korea viewpoint for defending its political instability. Continuation of the nuclear program is a significant leverage for North Korea, and it should be maintained in order to receive economic sanctions such as food, grants and concessions from the outside world. Moreover, North Korea intends to continue its nuclear weapons program in order to reduce its military expenditure (Clemens 298).
Above all, Pyongyang affirms that North Korean nuclear program will render a guarantee of security for the Kim Jong-il regime that suffers from political and social instability. A lack of political stability during the regime of Kim Jong-il was the key hindrance to Pyongyang’s attempt to introduce reform policies. Any policy based on the mere assumption that North Korea will give up its nuclear program in lieu of economic carrots, or succumb to economic pressures, will not work. In fact, the continuation of nuclear program appears to have more advantages and positive aspects than disadvantages. The economic, social and political challenges, which this paper discusses to continue its nuclear program, will not deter the North Korea to give up its nuclear program (Lee 28).
The North Korea Internal Conditions and Economic Difficulties
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A famine characterizes and dominates the North Korea’s economic difficulties. During the past decade, North Korea suffered deficit of two to five million tons of food out of its normal requirement of 7.5 million tons. Many people died of hunger because of unprecedented food shortage that continued over a recorded length of time. North Korea abandoned its famous propaganda, People’s Paradise on this Earth, and started to seek humanitarian and economic assistance from the international community in 1994. Beginning with 460,000 tons of rice from Japan and South Korea in 1995, international humanitarian assistance started to reach North Korea. The country heavily depends on foreign assistance, mainly from the World Food Program, China, and South Korea, which account for about one and a half million tons of food aid. The key reason of this famine attributes to the downfall of socialistic block in Eastern Europe, deficit of fertilizers, an inefficient farming system, and floods in 1995 and 1996. When compared to 1996 production rate, North Korea encountered low industrialization due to a shortage of raw materials and electricity that caused a decline in production turnover to one third of their 1993 levels. This means that 70 to 75% of workers could not find work and faced unemployment since the structure of employment remained alike. Other economic problems include deficit of hard currency, energy and power shortages, and deficit of daily necessities (Pape 49).
Political and Social Instability
North Korea had experienced social and political stability until early 1990s, but its economic problems unavoidably lead to political and social instability. During the food crises, North Korea decreased public distribution that forced Koreans to acquire food on their own, although influential people could still gain from the Public Distribution System. Many Koreans have bred livestock such as chickens, goats, pigs, and ducks or cultivated corn and rice in their gardens for their consumption or sale in markets. Sixty five to seventy five percent of North Korean consumption estimates to be present in black markets and farmer’s markets. As the economy collapsed, the country entered a phase of marketization by default, irrespective of government intentions. North Koreans started illegal travelling beyond country borders to obtain food and had opportunities to meet people from other parts of the world. The broadcasting systems such as Voice of America, Korean Broadcasting Systems and Radio Free Asia served as a prime source for international and domestic news for the people, especially near the Chinese border. These systems have dramatically catalyzed the flow of information. Many North Koreans crossed the Chinese border to meet their food requirements. When they cross the border for the first time, they do not intend to leave their native places permanently. They often returned to North Korea after acquiring food, but most of them crossed the border again to stay there for longer periods of time. With their frequent visits they ultimately decided to go from North Korea forever (Weathersby 11).
According to the estimates, at present 120,000 to 350,000 North Koreans reside in China; some of these even moved to South Korea and other countries. The number of defectors who arrive in South Korea each year started to increase in 1995 and totaled 8, 278 by the end of 2005. North Koreans residing in China are often prone to human rights violations: illegal trafficking, for example, prostitution and forced marriages, physical and sexual abuse, bonded labor with low wages. Their illegal status in China increased vulnerability of North Koreans. After their arrest and deportation to North Korea, they are likely to be punished, forced torture and executed in case they met with non Chinese foreigners or Christians. In North Korea party and state bodies possess their own organizations. The KWP operates Daesung General Enterprise, which being a powerful organization affiliates may factories, farms, mines, ranches, and trading companies. The ministry of the State Security Agency, the People’s Security Agency, and the People’s Armed Forces run Shinhung General Enterprise, Roksan General Enterprise, and Kangsung General Enterprise, respectively. As the party and state organs are engaged in money laundering activities, corruption and other negative impacts took place and came into knowledge of Kim Jong-il; these problems appeared most serious in the military sector. The difficulties associated with the material and food supply to the military needs in the middle of 1990s, made Kim Jong-il initiate various units of the military sector to become self sufficient. All the brigades, corps, and divisions started their own money profiting businesses that resulted in high ranking officials becoming businessmen. They appeared to be more interested in earning money rather than defending the country and system, which increased corruption. This situation reached the point that money, instead of discipline, military units, and the command systems were seriously weekend and disrupted. Eventually Kim Jong-il banned money making businesses by military sector and shifted them to the People’s Armed Forces. However, the corruption of state and party organs did not reduce. As economic problems kept surfacing over a length of time, social moral reduced, and loyalty to the regime also weekend. As the social control system gets powerless, social deviations such as theft, assault and even prostitution increases. North Korea introduced many political slogans such as Strong and Prosperous Nation, Red Flag Philosophy, and Military First Policy; interestingly these were not able to effect as a substitute ideology (Haggard 3, 4).
North Korean Strategies
During the decline of social morale, North Korea concern about its political and social stability started growing. Although North Korea strongly accuses the United States of harboring desires to attack or invade North Korea, there was much concern about the US goal to overthrow the Kim Jong-il regime. North Korea’s key concerns incorporate the United State policies on economic sanctions, the Proliferation Security Initiative and human rights because of counterfeiting. Further, North Korea stridently argued that the issues on drug trafficking, human rights abuses and counterfeiting raised by the United States were merely fabrications targeted to tarnish the international prestige of North Korea so as to justify a stiff action policy towards North Korea and in a bid to overthrow the Kim Jong-il rule. Further, North Korea has strong doubts that both Bush and Obama administrations’ ultimate goal towards North Korea is to topple the regime. North Korea also asserts that the nuclear crises resolution will not bring the ongoing tensions to the end, and does not guarantee the improvement of relations between Washington, and Pyongyang. North Korea is desperate to promote political and social stability. For this objective, North Korea has taken various policies and measures externally as well as internally: economic reforms, the divide and rule strategies towards dominant organizations, Military First Policy and collaboration at national level with South Korea. The ongoing nuclear program appears to be one of these measures (Larry 12).
One of the prime reasons for North Korea’s unwillingness to implement policies consistently appears to be its absence of confidence in domestic political stability. There are various reasons why the Kim Jong-il regime introduced the Military First policy. Firstly, creation of the reinforced status of the Military is to guarantee its loyalty as the military encourages the regime stability and may be its last resort. Secondly, this policy seems to be Kim Jong-il’s intention to control the military directly and bypass the party. As in the past, the military has been under the command of the party in every aspect, there can be a possibility that someone in the party may rise to project a strong second man on the political scene of North Korea. This situation may have weakened the personal power of Kim Jong-il. As a matter of fact, in the early 1970s Kim Jong-il himself strengthened his power through party organization. As secretary of KWP, Kim Jong-il could control the policies of the party, government and military; thus he knew the significance of power of the party than anybody else. Therefore, he never wanted to hold the military command through the central party organization. Last, the increased status of the military might be aimed at the outside world. A powerful military appears to be the political leverage of this country. It assumes that military blackmail is its powerful and effective negotiating chip in relations with South Korea and the United States, and the most of the nations would not dare to dismiss in case it demonstrates its military muscle (Byman 71).
North Korean bargainers often overlook delicate issues and reject the agenda raised by South Korea and the United States under the pretext of military veto or military dissatisfaction. As such, it is possible to interpret its nuclear program in the same context. Pyongyang considers its current nuclear program as the most trustworthy form of leverage in bargaining for diplomatic realization, security guarantees, and economic aid. The nuclear program also assists in promoting stability of regime by suggesting North Koreans a sense of pride in their prosperous and strong nation. It is significant to observe that, unlike during the first nuclear crises in the year 1993, North Korea declared that they have an entitlement to own nuclear weapons and announced to become a nuclear power in 2005 (Bernstein 287).
The United States Perspective on the Nuclear Crisis of North Korea
Since the September 11 terrorists’ attacks, the top United States foreign policy objectives have been winning the attention on nuclear nonproliferation and “War on Terror”; also, the Bush administration second term included promotion of democracy to the list. Natan Sharansky highly influences President Bush’s foreign policy. In his book,The Power of Freedom in Tyranny & Terror: The Case For Democracy Sharansky argues that the cost for stability in non-democratic regimes is increasing terror outside of them (Sharansky 152).
Hence, societies that cannot protect the right to disagree can never be trustworthy partners for peace. He maintains that the democracy, which hates us, is safer than the dictatorship that loves us. Democratic countries do not wage a war with one another. Democratic leaders possess a tendency towards social control because their power relies on the popular will. Whereas the first term of Bush declared: decide one way, either with us or with the terrorists, the second term gave more rigid message: if a regime is non democratic, it cannot be trusted. As for its policy towards North Korea, it is a fact that the Bush as well as now Obama administration has a negative impression towards North Korea. The United States included North Korea three times in grouping of countries it condemns, namely: as an object of likelihood of nuclear threat in the Nuclear Posture Review in the year 2002, as a member of the Axis of Evil in the address of the State of Union 2001, and as an outpost of dictatorship in the United States Senate Confirmation for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the year 2005 (Wit 341).
The United States administration always emphasizes on weapons of mass destruction, conventional military posture, missiles, humanitarian aid issues, human rights, rather than following a strategy like engaging North Korea within the international community. After 9/11, the US considers North Korea WMD and missile program as a direct threat to Northeast Asia, and also to itself. The United States aims to complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement against North Korea. Changing and overthrowing the Kin Jong-il regime has always been a prime issue for the Bush Administration, especially if the goal of dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program is not possible to achieve by diplomatic cooperation.
Although the Bush administration maintained a tough attitude towards North Korea, it would not be possible to adopt a military action against North Korea without full cooperation from South Korea. South Korean government, however, maintains that the North Korean nuclear program is a mere bargaining chip to benefit a security guarantee from the U.S., and determines to oppose any such military action. The likelihood of a North Korean counterattack is another serious issue for the United States. Sixty five percent of the North’s 1.3 million soldiers deploys in south of the Pyongyang-Wonsan, and 12,000 artillery aims at Seoul metropolitan area. Hence, terrible destruction and massive number of casualties may occur in the early stages of war on the Korean Peninsula. Moreover, the policy agenda always dominates over the Bush as well as Obama administration on Iran and Iraq issues. Although it is unlikely, but not unimaginable, that the U.S. will choose a military action, so long as North Korea does not sell its nuclear material overseas, or cross the red line. Thus, ruling out the military action, the Bush government employed a dual approach: pressure and diplomacy. As far as diplomacy concerns, the United States managed to hold multilateral conference in which six nations such as the United States, China, Russia, Japan, and two Koreas participated, despite North Korea request on bilateral negotiations with the United States to resolve the nuclear crises. Although in the Six Party Conference, the U.S. urges North Korea to adopt the Libyan Model and abandon its nuclear program, the United States continues applying pressure through measures such as the PSI, financial sanctions, and the North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004 (Wampler 27).
The North Korean Clarification on the Nuclear Crisis
North Korea appears to be determined to continue its nuclear weapons program, which supports both the last option for its security and the influential means of political leverage in relation to the United States and South Korea. North Korea may reluctantly give up its nuclear program only after assurance of a security guarantee and political hold through other means. Most likely, the reasonable approach for the near future is a peace treaty with the U.S. and subsequent withdrawal of the U.S. army from the Korean peninsula. North Korea asserts that this is only possible to achieve through bilateral talks with the U.S. (Bechtol 24).
Ever since the burst of the second nuclear crisis in October 2002 North Korea made it clear that it only wants a peace treaty or security guarantee. This perspective is sharply different from its first nuclear crisis in 1994, where it sought economic aid, substitute energy from light water reactors, removal of the nuclear protection umbrella over South Korea, and normalization of relations with the United States in exchange for abandonment of its nuclear program.
It has become a necessity for Pyongyang to enhance internal security and consolidate the stability of North Korean people. There is the likelihood that, due to this intention, Pyongyang may close the door to the U.S. if it cannot receive any concessions from it.
In the year 2005, North Korea hinted to isolate itself by stressing its method to strengthen internal stability: the reformations in agricultural production and people’s lives. North Korea believes that the United States considers the human rights issue and the nuclear issue as two levers in enforcing its policy to segregate and stifle the DPRK, and it threats to reject the six party talks. In this respect, the biggest misconception of the U.S. may be its impression that North Korea’s economic problems will force it to arrive at the negotiation and eventually give up its nuclear program, as Libya did. As a dead heat in the nuclear crisis continues to increase, North Korea may want to stabilize its position in order to attract consideration of the United States to bilateral negotiations (Bernstein 283).
It is impossible to imagine a solution of the North Korea nuclear crisis without Chinese involvement. It was China that initiated North Korea to enter into multilateral talks despite North Korea’s demand on bilateral talks with the U.S. China played a powerful role as a host country for the six party conferences. Further, China maintains a clear policy on the North Korea nuclear program; China will not tolerate North Korea’s nuclear weapons, and this crisis needs resolution by peaceful means, maintains China. However, China also does not want the North Korea to succumb under too much pressure of the United States. As the tension between Pyongyang and Washington increases over the North Korea nuclear program, North Korea and China relations are becoming more consolidated (Solingen 274).
The United States has strong intention to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear weapon program in a complete, dismantlement verifiable and irreversible way, but its approach towards resolution of the nuclear crisis has not been effective. The U.S. should consider a number of issues that have restricted its ability to solve the problem more aggressively: Iran, Iraq concern about a counterattack by North Korea, and its coordination with South Korea. The United States, however, believes that conditions are favoring to its side with regard to Korean economic problems.
For North Korea, its continuation of nuclear program is the key leverage in order to obtain economic aid, food, and attention from the outside world. Further, North Korea has also interests in nuclear weapons to cut its military expenditure. Above all, Pyongyang maintains that the nuclear program will give a guarantee of security for the Kim Jong-il regime that suffered from declining political and social stability during his life time. North Korea seeks a peace treaty with the United States for giving up its nuclear program.
The justification of domestic political stability, which has been one of the key factors behind its nuclear program, has never influenced other nuclear powers: the United Kingdom, the United States, China, Russia, France, India, Pakistan, Israel, and South Africa. For North Korea, its security guarantee is more crucial than economic help. The economic sticks and carrots in exchange for abandonment of nuclear program will be in the nation’s interest if North Korea is confident about its political stability. Any such policy based on mere assumption that North Korea would abandon its nuclear weapon program in exchange for economic grant, or succumb under economic pressure, will never work.