North Korea’s Influence of Peace in North East Asia
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Published: Wed, 28 Feb 2018
North Korea and North East Asian Peace and Security
Current security issues in North East Asia, raised by North Korea Nuclear Test. Please examine how far North Korea can affect the peace and stability in Northeast Asia and how other countries such as America, Japan, China, and Russia react on this issue. And lastly, How to solve this security issues permanently and increases future stability in the area?
The following dissertation will discuss and evaluate North Korea’s influence and effect upon peace and security within the North East Asia region. This dissertation will evaluate North Korea’s relationships with other countries in the North East Asia region such as South Korea, Japan, and China. Countries from outside the immediate North East Asia region like the UnitedStates, Russia (as the largest successor state of the Soviet Union) and to a lesser extent Britain and France also have an interest in the North East Asia Region. All these countries have an interest in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear tests. For instance these countries must consider how the actions or the potential actions of the North Korean government are able to influence or effect peace and security within the North East Asia region. Nongovernmental organisations like the United Nations and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), as well as the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) have taken a great deal of interest in how North Korea effects the peace and security of its immediately neighbouring countries. These organisations are taking North Korea’s nuclear programme as well as its ballistic missile capacity into account when they regard the North Korean threat to peace and security going beyond the confines of the North East Asia region itself.
This dissertation will evaluate the development and changes in North Korean government policies that have influenced and arguably threatened peace and security of the North East Asia region from Korea’s initial division at the end of the Second World War through to the present day. North Korea has been regarded as a threat to the peace and security of the North East Asia region ever since Pyongyang’s decision to invade South Korea provoked the Korean War of 1950 to 1953. The Korean War as will be discussed set the mould for North Korean defence and foreign policies, whilst ensuring the importance of the relationship with China and Russia. The North Korean regime, as will be shown, has been very reluctant to embrace and adopt any kind of economic or political reforms, preferring to use its scant resources on maintaining and expanding its military capacity. It is also continuing its nuclear weapons programme, long drawn talks having yet to result in effective nuclear disarmament, and thus undermining peace and security within the North East Asia region, and when issues of nuclear proliferation are
concerned outside that region.
Finally the following will explore whether there are any ways in which North Korea can finally become a country that its neighbours in the North East Asia region could trust and believe will not threaten their common peace and stability rather than a country that they mistrust. The United Nations is an organisation that could offer the North Korean assistance to overcome its failed economy in return for the ending of North Korea’s nuclear programme and potentially aggressive foreign policy. The main onus for international efforts to contain North Korean nuclear weapons development has been by the United States, China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea. The prospects for the international community being able to monitor and eventually close down North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, dismantling any weapons already constructed will also be discussed and evaluated.
Korea has a long history of being a definable and separate nation state, although it was for many centuries subject to Chinese and later Japanese control (Lenman, 2004, p.450). Japanese control of Korea was ended by its defeat in the Second World War, which would inadvertently lead to the partition of Korea (Whitaker’s, 2007, p.892). The division of Korea was caused by the way that the Allied powers liberated the country from Japanese occupation, United States troops cleared the south, with the Soviet Union being responsible for clearing the north. This was intended to be a temporary division along the 38th parallel that would provoke the hottest conflict of the Cold War, as well as creating a dispute that continues to destabilise the peace and the security of the North East Asia region. As with the division of Vietnam the division was purely carried out as a reflection of the distribution of American and Soviet armed forces at the time of the Japanese surrender in September 1945 (Gaddis, 2005, p.41).
It was Kim Il Sung who had previously fought the Japanese for many years that emerged as North Korea’s first political leader, and he would be the man most responsible for his country’s attempt to re-unite Korea by force. Kim Il Sung was also responsible for North Korea’s subsequently militant defence and foreign policies that has remained stridently anti-Western, militaristic, and potentially aggressive towards its immediate neighbours in the North East Asia region ever since. It was Kim Il Sung that decided to re-unite Korea by force, after his realisation that diplomacy would not bring about such a re-unification led to the plan to invade South Korea, although he seems to have pre-empted similar plans that the South Koreans had hoped to implement. Kim Il Sung went ahead with that invasion with the approval of the Soviet Union and China, and the apparent indifference of the United States, which had already withdrawn its military garrisons from South Korea during 1949. However, the North Korean invasion which, was launched in June 1950 persuaded the United States to lead the United Nation’s forces into defending South Korea and driving the North Koreans back across the 38th parallel. The United States had been able to take advantage of the Soviet Union’s representative not been at the United Nations due to the Soviet decision to boycott the organisation due to Communist China being excluded from the Security Council (Evans & Newnham, 1998, p. 293). The United States decision to intervene in the Korean War started its long -standing military alliance with South Korea to guarantee South Korean security from the continued threat of North Korean aggression. The Korean War itself would drag on for three years with the North Koreans having to rely on large-scale Chinese military intervention and covert air support from the SovietUnion. North Korea only survived after the American led United Nations forces had captured the majority of North Korean territory due to Mao Zedong sending in the Chinese army. The conflict could have escalated, due to the involvement of Soviet aircraft that could have provoked a war between the superpowers yet both Moscow and Washington did not want an all out war to start due to the Korean War (Hobsbawm, 1994 p. 228).
After the Korean War the prospects for Korean re-unification seemed to be remote, with the two Korean states being integrated into the alliance systems of the Soviet Union and the United States respectively. North Korea was therefore firmly in the communist camp, and initially enjoyed strong and productive political, economic and military relationships with both China and the Soviet Union. South Korea was a willing member of the United States alliance system and received substantial monetary and military backing from the United States, and later significant economic investment from Japan that would make it wealthier than North Korea. The United States government was not bothered by the Seoul’s regime lack of democratic practices just as long as it remained fervently anti-Communist (Hobsbawm, 1994 p. 228). Kim Il Sung’s North Korean regime was in contrast avowedly Marxist-Leninist in ideological outlook, whilst trying to create a strong sense of North Korean nationalism that was decidedly anti-American and increasingly isolationist in perspective (Heywood, 2003 p. 179). The Korean War meant that neighbouring countries such as South Korea, Japan, and China kept an interest in political and diplomatic developments that involved North Korea, the former as potential enemies, the latter originally as an ally. The balance of power during the Cold War meant that North Korea could only pose a threat to the peace and security of the North East Asia region if that suited the Soviet Union, and to a lesser extent China. The Kremlin to a large extent kept the regime in Pyongyang in check, not wishing to provoke further conflict, and realising that the United States would not tolerate North Korea attempting to invade South Korea again, or indeed developing its own nuclear weapons. On the other hand the Soviet Union exported missile and nuclear technologies to North Korea as part of its military and economic aid packages to the Pyongyang regime
(Gaddis, 2005 p. 60).
The fighting during the Korean War was heavy, the agricultural sector being particularly adversely affected, and the war had devastated North Korea’s economy. American bombing had also heavily damaged the North Korean capital city, Pyongyang. The number of North Korean fatalities, 419,000 was testimony to the high human costs of the conflict, with around 3 million people dying during its course (Castleden, 2005, p.299). The scale of destruction did not prevent a strong economic revival and rapid industrialisation, although most of those improvements were brought about by considerable amounts of help from China and the Soviet Union (Castleden, 2005, p.300). Large-scale industrialisation in North Korea would therefore have undoubtedly been much harder to achieve without that substantial aid that North Korea received from China and the Soviet Union. The Soviet decision to export nuclear technology to North Korea, for the non-military use of generating electricity would later allow Pyongyang the opportunity to start its own nuclear weapons programme. That would have been unthinkable at the height of the Cold
War, as neither the Soviet Union nor the United States would allow any of their satellite states to disturb the nuclear power balance between them. However, once the North Korean regime believed that the Soviet Union and China would no longer offer North Korea any meaningful kind or level of protection that is indeed precisely what the North Korean regime decided to do (Lenman, 2004, p.451). North Korea would continue to operate a planned economy even though that would eventually fail to adequately support its military build up and its civilian population. The North Korean government opted to keep its military infrastructure expanding rather than attempt economic reforms or adequately providing for its people (Heywood, 2003 p.137). The Soviet Union would have certainly disapproved of North Korean plans to develop its own nuclear weapons, yet the Soviet Union’s influence upon North Korean military and defence policies had waned long before its own disintegration in 1991 (Gaddis, 2005, p.264).
North Korea arguably became a threat to the peace and stability of the North East Asia region due to the nature and character of its hard line Stalinist regime. Kim Il Sung was a Marxist dictator in the mode of Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong. However for the majority of the Cold War period the North Korean threat was seen to be much less pronounced to the non-communist parts of the North East Asia region than the more obvious threats of the Soviet Union and China (Gaddis, 2005, p.60). Kim Il Sung’s craving for power meant that North Korea dedicated and continues to dedicate a large percentage of its national budget and resources towards internal repression and building up its military strength to threaten the other countries of the North East Asia region. However, North Korea’s conventional weapons would not be enough to successfully invade South Korea whilst the United States continues to offer full protection against such attacks, even if their purchase had almost bankrupted the Pyongyang regime (Castleden, 2005, p.303). Despite the faltering of the North Korean economy in the last two decades or so, Pyongyang seems to be more interested in threatening South Korea and Japan with nuclear weapons and ballistic weapons than feeding its own population. Although North Korea should be wary of what happened to its erstwhile ally, the Soviet Union whose excessive and unsustainable military expenditure played a major part in its eventual collapse (Tipton, 1998, p.434).
However, although the North Korean regime decided to start its nuclear weapons programme that decision violated North Korea’s formal and legal pledges not to proliferate its own nuclear weapons. North Korea had signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and had joined the IAEA, which meant that it was not supposed to start its own nuclear weapons programme at all (Evans & Newnham, 1998 p. 68). For the North Koreans there were other examples of small and large sized states that had already broken their promises and legal commitments not to develop their own nuclear weapons. Those states nuclear weapons programme with varying degrees of reaction from the official nuclear powers of the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, China, and France. Countries such as Israel, India, and Pakistan have gone on to successfully acquire their own nuclear weapons with little or no action been taken against them to make them give up those devices. The North Korean regime understood that it could develop nuclear weapons with the possiblity that the United Nations and the leading powers would not be able to take any effective action to take those weapons off North Korea (Fukuyama, 2006 p. 80).
North Korean defence and foreign policy misrepresented or a threat to peace and security?
Since the foundation of North Korea as a separate nation state its defence and foreign policies have been geared towards the re-unification of Korea on Pyongyang’s terms, rather than South Korea’s terms (Rayner & Stanley, 2006, p.234). As far as the North Korean regime of Kim Il Sung was concerned the re-unification of Korea was not an issue that should concern any other countries apart from North and South Korea themselves. It was the context of the Cold War that complicated the strategic, military and diplomatic situation concerning the dispute between North and South Korea about which country should over power the other to dominate a reunified Korean state. In military terms North Korea is the strongest, in economic terms South Korea is the strongest (Tipton, 1998, 434). On the one hand the assistance of China and the Soviet Union was useful for the economic development of North Korea and also as a means of building up the country’s military power. On the other hand the Cold War meant that the United States was more alert about the need to protect the countries in the North East Asia region that were opposed to communism, like Japan, South Korea and South Vietnam (Gaddis, 2005, p.60). The Cold War meant that the United States was unwilling to allow any more parts of North East Asia to fall under communist rule. After all the presence of United States forces in Japan had allowed the United Nations forces to resist Kim Il Sung’s invasion of South Korea. North Vietnam would eventually overcome South Vietnam despite the best efforts of the United States, yet the terrain of Vietnam was different from that of Korea and the North Vietnamese had better military tactics than the North Koreans (Hobsbawm, 1994, p.228). Whilst the Cold War continued, North Korea was not seen as the main threat to peace and security in the North East Asia region, superpower rivalry meant that the Soviet Union and the United States mistrusted each other more than they mistrusted any other state. China would also emerge as a major power within the region, one that eventually took independent policy decisions from those of the Soviet Union. The United States government however, remains wary of North Korea’s intentions towards the rest of the North East Asia region (Gaddis, 2005, p.61).
The peace and security of the North East Asia region altered during the 1960s, not as a result of changes in the Cold War, but as a result of alterations in the relationship between North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union. The regime of Kim Il Sung had not wished for North Korea to be reliant upon either China or the Soviet Union as soon as the country had recovered from the Korean War and had become economically self sufficient. By the mid 1960s the North Korean regime believed that it become self-sufficient and no longer such high levels of aid from China or the Soviet Union. Kim Il Sung wanted to maintain military links with China and the Soviet
Union, yet did not wish for North Korea to be a mere client state of Beijing or Moscow. North Korea was not going to be like the majority of communist states in Central and Eastern Europe were in relation to the Soviet Union. Although of course the North Koreans did not have to worry about invasion by the Soviet Union if it took much of an independent from Soviet policy (Castleden, 2005, p.301). North Korea’s military power was originally reliant upon Chinese and Soviet built equipment and the regime could not afford weapons from any other countries outside of the communist bloc (Gaddis, 2005, p.61). Under Kim Il Sung’s leadership North Korea could not get away from its close economic links with the Soviet Union until the latter’s collapse in 1991, which in turn would have very detrimental affects upon North Korea (Watson, 1997, p.246). The strong relationship between China and the Soviet Union declined dramatically towards the end of the 1960s resulting in border clashes between the two states. The break down in the relationship between China and the Soviet Union meant North Korea’s most powerful allies would spend more time arguing with each other than the United States. Pyongyang did not back either state publicly although Kim Il Sung regarded the Soviet Union as a more reliable
ally, and unlike Beijing, Moscow did not occasionally make insulting comments about the North Korean leader (Watson, 1997, p.240).
Whilst the North Korean economy seemed to enjoy impressive growth rates from the 1950s through to the 1970s, the country arguably did not have or develop the infrastructure or indeed have the resources to become a serious threat to peace and security in the North East Asia region. North Korean economic policy was heavily influenced by the planned economies of China and the Soviet Union, and was as unsuccessful in North Korea as they had been in China and the Soviet Union (Heywood, 2003 p. 152). Kim Il Sung’s regime collectivised agriculture and began the process of large-scale industrialisation. The collectivisation of agriculture commenced in 1946 when estates with Japanese owners were confiscated in the north under Soviet guidance (Tipton, 1998,p.304). Collectivisation and the modernisation of agriculture increased the life expectancy of the North Korean population. Industrialisation at least during the 1950s and 1960s appeared to be impressive. However much of that economic growth was due to the revenues raised from the export of natural resources to the Soviet Union and the receipt of aid from the Soviet Union (Watson, 1997, p.246)
Economic growth could have been stronger if it had not been hampered by Kim Il Sung’s decision to make expenditure on the military as high as possible, and his government’s main priority. The military build up was meant to unnerve the South Korean government. In terms of total expenditure South Korea spent more on its military expenditure than North Korea. This was mainly due to North Korea being regarded as an ever-present threat to South Korean security. There were differences as to how the two countries military expenditure was regarded in the North East Asia region and beyond. South Korea’s military expenditure was seen as being justified as it would deter North Korea. On the other hand, North Korea’s military spending was viewed as being unjustified, aggressive and a sign of Kim Il Sung’s megalomania, policies that his son, Kim Jong Il has continued (Gaddis, 2005, p.61).
North Korea had one major disadvantage if its regime wished to outspend South Korea in terms of their defence budgets, as they were poorer. Whilst North Korea found it difficult to find foreign investors, South Korea was able to attract very high volumes of investment, especially from the United States and Japan. South Korea’s increasing levels of wealth meant it could easily match North Korea’s military build up, without reducing the living standards of its population, or driving its government towards insolvency (Tipton, 1998, p.304). In terms of any future conventional war between North and South Korea, South Korea held key advantages. Firstly, the South Korean population was twice the size of its neighbour to the north, potentially allowing for its armed forces to have twice the number of personnel in war- time conditions. In 1985, South Korea was estimated to have a population of 41.2 million compared to North Korea’s population of 20.1 million people (Watson, 1997, p.262). South Korea was economically more productive and therefore wealthier than North Korea, with the latter’s seemingly impressive growth rates beginning to slow down by the start of the 1980s. An example of the growing disparity between the countries was the per capita income, whilst it was $790 for North Korea in 1982, it was $1,840 for South Korea in 1983. In economic terms, North Korea could not realistically afford its high levels of military expenditure, although Kim Il Sung’s regime was determined to carry on with spending money it believed kept the regime in power and made it a continuing danger to its capitalist neighbours (Watson, 1997, p.262).
In the following decade North Korea was widely regarded as bring an increased threat to the peace and security of the North East Asia region, despite the country’s economy going in to a steep decline. Whilst the North Korean regime refused to scale down its military expenditure its agricultural sector, especially suffered an alarming drop in productivity that contributed to an estimated two million North Koreans dying of starvation during the 1990s. Despite famine and economic decline the North Korean regime still used scarce resources to develop its nuclear weapons programme. North Korea barely increased its economic productivity during the 1990s
and was by then considerably poorer than South Korea. To give a stark contrast, South Korean per capita gross domestic product (GDP) reached an impressive $13, 700, whilst North Korean GDP languished at $900. It was a paradoxical situation in which, although the North Korean regime could increasingly threaten its neighbours with missiles and nuclear weapons, yet it would eventually need emergency aid from those countries to prevent more of its own population starving to death (Pipes, 2001, p.152). On paper at least, North Korea has impressive conventional military strength with around 3,500 tanks and 2,500 armoured personnel carriers, whilst the army had 950,000 troops. The North Korean air force has 590 combat aircraft, whilst the navy’s 88 submarines could pose a serious threat to shipping in the North East Asia region in the event of a future war. However it is the potential development and possible of nuclear weapons that causes a greater concern than North Korea’s conventional arsenal (Whitaker’s 2007, pp.893-94). South Korea has smaller armed forces yet still has a standing army 560,000 strong and 2,330 main battle tanks. South Korea would no doubt have to increase those numbers if 94, 450 Americans were not based in South Korea (Whitaker’s 2007 p. 895).
However, it was not just North Korea’s strength in terms of conventional weapons that means it is regarded as being a threat to peace and security in the North East Asia region. The United States government has long suspected that North Korea has played a part in sponsoring and supporting terrorism within the North East Asia region and indeed further afield. The suspicions of the United States have been founded upon the anti-American rhetoric that the North Korean regime its content to produce from time to time (Gaddis, 2005, p.261). South Korea had previously accused North Korea of trying to undermine internal stability by supporting dissident South Korean groups and calling for the re-unification of Korea (Tipton, 1998, p.304). North Korea was one of the countries that the administration of Ronald Reagan denounced as being terrorist states back in 1985. The Reagan administration viewed North Korea as being a risk to international peace and security within and beyond the North East Asia region (Ward, 2003, p.349). North Korea did not have any moral or political hang ups about selling weapons such as assault rifles to other countries that found it hard to acquire weapons due to arms embargo’s or sanctions. For instance, North Korea sold surplus Soviet manufactured assault rifles to Iran during the early years of the Iran-Iraq War. Such arms sales may have contributed to the United States accusing North Korea of being a terrorist state. The North Koreans could have countered that these claims were hypocrisy on the part of the American government that sold a much greater volume of weapons to any state or organisation that was anti-Communist, or if it suited the United States interests to do so. Hypocrisy that was demonstrated by the Iran –Contra Affair in which the money from arms sales to Iran was used to fund the Contra forces in Nicaragua (Fisk, 2006, p.278). North Korea also supplied ballistic missiles to the Iranians and even sent engineers to Iran to ensure those missiles successfully reached Iraqi targets, especially Baghdad. The willingness of the North Koreans to sell missiles to the highest bidders certainly increased concerns about Pyongyang posing a threat to peace and security (Fisk, 2006, p.281).
Surveillance and interceptions of cargo ships have provided evidence that North Korea will sell weapons to terrorist organisations as well as any state that can afford them. For instance, the Spanish navy intercepted a North Korean merchant ship that was officially taking cement to South Yemen. Once aboard that ship the Spanish found ballistic missiles that could have been used by the terrorist group that had brought those missiles. The Middle East is a volatile region at the best of times, so the ability of North Korea to supply ballistic missiles to governments and terrorists groups in that region is another concern for the United States and other Western countries (Davies, 2003 p. 238).
It was during the early 1990s that the prospect of North Korea carrying out a successful nuclear weapons programme became the cause of major international concern. In the United States, the administration of President Bill Clinton was determined to persuade the North Korean regime to halt that nuclear weapons programme peacefully by preference, or by force if necessary (Clinton, 2004 p. 561). Aside from the United States, South Korea, China, Russia, and Japan were, and still are the countries that are most anxious to prevent North Korea acquiring and keeping nuclear weapons. Britain and France have also been involved in international efforts to prevent North Korea acquiring nuclear weapons as members of the United Nations Security Council, and as signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (Evans & Newnham, 1998 p. 381). South Korea and Japan are particularly anxious and insecure about North Korea’s attempts to produce nuclear weapons because they would be the most obvious targets if North Korea ever decided to use nuclear weapons. That anxiety is increased because the South Koreans and the Japanese are well aware that the North Koreans have the technical capacity to fit nuclear warheads to its force of ballistic missiles that can reach all the major cities in South Korea and Japan. China is also anxious that the nuclear weapons programme of North Korea does not provoke a military confrontation between North Korea and the United States that would bring widespread destruction and shatter the peace and stability of the North East Asia region. China remains keen to continue its impressive economic growth rates and also hopes to maintain political stability in the region, a stability that North Korea has a strong propensity to disrupt. China is therefore willing to act as a go between to prevent conflict arising between the United States and North Korea that would be very damaging to the North East Asia region as a whole (Cheek, 2006 p.136). That also means that China is willing to back the efforts of the United States, South Korea, and Japan to reduce the North Korean threat to peace and security (The Guardian, February 14 2007).
Russia, as the main successor state to the Soviet Union, on the other hand has attempted to maintain strong economic, military, and economic links with North Korea. Those links leave Kim Jong Il hoping North Korea has more leeway in its disputes with the United States and the United Nations over its plans to acquire nuclear weapons. Whilst Russia is caught between promoting its economic links with North Korea without harming its relationship with the United States that improved with the latter’s war on terror in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, it would normally put its relationship with the United States first. The Russians and North Koreans remain keen upon maintaining a strong relationship between each other, although that is based on pragmatism rather than a common ideological outlook. Whilst the Russian government believes that like the Chinese government it could help resolve the international disputes that currently mean that North Korea is regarded as been a threat to peace and security in North East Asia region (Meir, 2004 p. 417).
North Korea’s defence and foreign policy was seen and remains seen as a serious and increasing threat to the peace and security of the North East Asia region because of the nature of the Pyongyang regime itself. That is due to Kim Il Sung and his son and successor Kim Jong Il concentrating upon the maintaining of their personal hold on power. That hold on power is through a strong military with undoubted loyalty to the national leader, and via a system of forced labour and prison camps that detain political dissidents or opponents of the regime. The regime’s internal position is also protected and promoted through a cult of personality for Kim Il
Sung and now Kim Jong Il that rivals other cults of personalities witnessed in other communist regimes. It most closely resembles the cults of personality experienced in the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union, or China under Chairman Mao Zedong, especially during the tumultuous period of the Cultural Revolution (Castleden, 2005 p. 301). The North Korean regime during Kim Il Sung’s lifetime not only managed to copy Chinese and Soviet propaganda techniques; the North Koreans also managed to emulate their purges. Such pronounced levels of dictatorship have always managed to make the United States suspicious of North Korean intentions. The South Koreans and the Japanese tend to reinforce American concerns over the de-stabilising effects of North Korean defence and foreign policies. The South Koreans and the Japanese therefore have fears for their safety as without an American military presence in the North East Asia region they would not be able to defend themselves from North Korean attacks. As the United States and its North East Asian allies do not trust North Korea, the United States uses satellites to monitor North Korean military activity and its nuclear installations, whilst the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) constantly carries out surveillance operations (Lane & McCormack, 1993 p. 178).
Containing the North Korean threat to peace and security in the North East Asia Region
To a large extent North Korea is widely considered to be a threat to peace and secu
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