Interesting Analysis of North Korea
North Korea has presented the world with a serious strategic dilemma that is quickly becoming a first-class crisis. With the unprovoked torpedoing of a South Korean navy corvette, the Cheonan, and the deaths of 46 crew, the North has committed an act of war.
Pyongyang denies responsibility, as it has denied every one of its many acts of terrorism and sabotage of the past half-century. But the international investigation, by 25 South Koreans and an international team of 24 Australian, British, American and Swedish naval experts, found remains of a North Korean torpedo at the site and last week delivered a finding of ”guilty”.
It is the deadliest attack by North Korea since two of its spies put a bomb on board KAL 858 in 1987, killing the 115 civilians aboard.
But what to do? North Korea is threatening war: ”We will take strong measures including full-scale war if sanctions against North Korea are imposed,” it declared last week.
To judge a response, we need to know North Korea’s motive. To a rational outsider, any one of North Korea’s outrages seems senseless. But its ”puzzling behaviour” can be rationally explained: ”In each case, Pyongyang sought to disrupt a status quo deemed highly unfavourable with the purpose of renegotiating a new status quo to its advantage,” a US expert, Victor Cha, wrote in Nuclear North Korea.
And guess what? Kim Jong-il’s regime said last week it was trying to implement what it calls the “grand bargain” – a mooted deal in which the international community gives North Korea some $US40 billion in aid on the condition it dismantles its nuclear weapons.
We know from Kim’s own mouth that this is the way he sees his regime’s military capability. In 2000 a visiting South Korean newspaper publisher, Choe Hak-rae, asked Kim why his government was spending its scarce resources on ballistic missiles instead of education or other social programs for its citizens.
”The missiles cannot reach the US,” Choe later recounted Kim replying. ”And if I launch them, the US would fire back thousands of missiles and we would not survive … But I have to let them know I have missiles. I am making them because only then will the United States talk to me.”
So Kim thinks of his military capability as an attention-getting device and he has a history of using provocation as a tool of negotiation.
But some senior Western officials believe there is another layer. They suspect this might be a rerun of a made-in-Pyongyang movie we saw once before, the attack on KAL 858.
Then, Kim Jong-il was positioning to take the leadership from his father, Kim Il-sung. The succession, the first dynastic transfer of power in any communist regime, was not assured and he had competitors.
When the two North Korean agents who planted the bomb were later arrested in Bahrain, both tried to take cyanide pills. One succeeded and the other was kept alive. She later recounted the order to bomb the civilian flight was personally signed by Kim Jong-il.
There appear to be two motives for that decision. First, it was designed to detract from an approaching moment of South Korean glory, the Seoul Olympics, an honour an envious and spiteful North Korean communist regime can never aspire to.
Second, Kim Jong-il used the bombing to demonstrate his toughness and ability to lead. It was his job application for the presidency, it seems.
Today Kim, who last year suffered some serious illness, appears to be grooming one of his sons, his youngest, Kim Jong-un, 28, to succeed him as leader. As with most North Korean affairs, we can’t be certain, but South Korean outlets reported his birthday this year was celebrated as an informal national holiday, a tell-tale sign he is the anointed. There is once again a succession under way, apparently.
And, once again, there is an approaching moment of South Korean glory, when Seoul hosts a summit of the Group of 20 in November, another international honour Pyongyang’s regime can never hope to equal…