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Analytical Essay on North Korean Nuclear Weapons
North Korea has developed an intensive amount of weapons of mass destruction. Their ambitions to become heavily equipped were revealed in 1992 when the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, observed that their weapons program was much more thorough than initially reported. This caused them to leave the IAEA. In order to keep the nation as a cooperating member of the Treaty of the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons or, NPT, the treaty members adjusted their restrictions for the country and gave them incentives to stay. This however did not work and in 2003 the country withdrew from the treaty and began an extensive program, launching its first missile test in 2006. Since then North Korea has done 5 tests in total, (Nuclear Threat Initiative, North Korea: Overview). The next effort to curtail North Korea’s nuclear progress was the six party talks of 2009. This quickly fell apart and was followed by an 8 year stall on any other denuclearization talks. This silence ended in 2017 when South Korea, on the behalf of Pyongyang, stated that they will commit to denuclearization. The most recent intervention occurred in June of 2018. Kim Jong-un and U.S. president Donald Trump met in Singapore. Kim Jong-un declared that his country will commit to denuclearization. This sounded like an encouraging statement from the nation, but recently the IAEA reported that, there have been no actions taken to denuclearize since that statement was made.
One of the important steps in securing evidence of permanent denuclearization is to understand the reasons behind building weapons of mass destruction. As citizens of the western world, we are inclined to believe that he is simply evil and wants to conquer the world, when in truth many other unstable nations have nuclear weapons, such as Pakistan and Ukraine, (Kelsey Davenport, Nuclear Weapons, Who Has What at a Glance), but we do not concentrate on those nations nuclear capabilities as much. The reasons could be political, but it could also be because of the nature of Kim Jong-un’s leadership. His claim to leadership is one based on fables, that are surreal in a modern society. His regime seems to be straight out of a dystopian novel, so it is easy to see him and all of his decisions as irrational. The leader and his predecessor may make morally reprehensible decisions when it comes to his citizens, but his weapons program is based on sound logic. The moment he began to develop these weapons North Korea became a figure to be reckoned with. The nation couldn’t be ignored. It provides security as well as credibility to be viewed as a key player (Dave Mosher, North Korea is not building nuclear weapons to destroy the US — the real reasons are much more surprising). The Balance of Power theory could be applied to this decision. In order to avoid being dominated and “balance the power” of the surrounding asian nations they added value to themselves with weapon capabilities, by creating these tangible sources of state power they now have influence, regardless of their crimes against humanity. In actuality almost no nation is without crimes against humanity, including the United States, so the assumption that this is the reason America cares, is ludicrous. It is also naive to believe that The United States will actually keep its promises. the U.S. is the hegemon there is no power that could make the nation keep a promise it made to others. This occurred with Iraq and Saddam. Even after the nation relinquished its weapons , it was still invaded by the U.S. and was at the whim of the United States, so one could ask, what actual benefits will this bring the country? If their only bargaining chip is their weapons, then what will they do once these are gone? The United States, the main actor in denuclearization talks, views North Korea as an unstable nation that shouldn’t be allowed something that could end so many lives so fast. As stated before, his record of valuing human lives is completely abysmal. It appears that mutual assured destruction doesn’t phase him, or at least that what he wants the world to believe after making so many threats. The fear is that he wouldn’t have a problem with the destruction of his people, and is therefore more likely to use these weapons, his leadership is not based on ability, but on corruption. With this logic that same could be said about the leadership in the west, that its leadership is corrupt and ill equipped to handle this problem. The best way to convince North Korea to ignore the security dilemma, is to give them a rational solution not based on trust of the United States. A method that doesn’t strip them of their influence.
North Korea, has dealt with intense sanctions, created to condemn the nation due to their nuclear programs, human rights violations, cyber crimes, and laundering money. The UN security council has placed nine sanction resolutions after the first nuclear test in 2006, each time trying to hit North Korea in a different sector of its economy. The sanctions include, fishing rights, specific luxury goods, trading military equipment and industrial machines, cap on oil and labor exports, a ban on the export of seafood, wood, coal ,textiles, and much more. The EU also created its own sanctions, not allowing certain people admittance, stopping luxury items, and a ban on economic investments. The United States has placed sanctions similar to the UN, but larger. It banned economic activity, certain people and companies, and even non- North Korean actors that appear to support or tolerate North Korea’s actions, (Council on Foreign Relations, What to Know About the Sanctions on North Korea). These sanctions have caused North Korea to smuggle goods in through China. China has a record of routinely trading goods in secret while North Korean border control looks the other way. In addition to smuggling, the nation is making adjustments as severe as returning to ox-drawn carriages for farming.
The sanctions and resulting lack of goods has caused the government to turn to patriotism, as most countries do in a time of distress. The government is prioritizing resources for the military and elites. Insisting that being with out is a noble action. According to North Korean defectors, there is no sign of an impending famine and the nation might cope fine. The North Korean people are used to extreme hardship, already living in a strictly controlled and impoverished environment, (Choe Sang-Hun, Sanctions are Hurting North Korea, Can They Make Kim Give in?). North Korean defector turned South Korean banker, Kang-Mi Jin, insists that these sanctions will never cause a revolt or collapse. That the people are nothing if not loyal and longsuffering. Recently, the most painful sanction ever given to the country occurred when the UN banned one the countries key exports, gasoline. Gasoline makes up 90% of its total export. The UN limited their production of petroleum, making it impossible to run the nations 280,000 cars let alone heat homes. China has also began to cooperate more with sanctions. This causes more pressure than ever before because China was always an option for resources, now that China has begun to restrict, exports dropped by ⅓, (Choe Sang-hun, Sanctions are Hurting North Korea, Can They Make Kim Give in?). The countries private nature doesn’t allow for a full picture of how the sanctions are affecting the elites. In the past couple of years, the government has allowed for autonomy and growth in the private sector. A small middle class is beginning to develop and it is growing during a time when sanctions were suppose to make this impossible. Instead of suffering, there are new ways for the elite to spend their money. The capital has invested in building shopping malls, waterparks, and even a dolphin aquarium at the same time Kim Jong-un is telling his impoverished citizens that it is time for more sacrifice, (Gareth Evans, How Leisure Time is Changing for North Korea’s Privileged). So, are these sanctions really hurting the ones they need to harm, or is it just a slight inconvenience to a nation that has showed sacrificing its poor is not a problem? It is like punishing a blind man by turning off the lights, this doesn’t affect him directly, so how effective is this really in denuclearization? Changes are also occurring in the country to help keep the nation’s productivity at acceptable levels like decreasing its reliance on fuel. The country is coping and in small instances thriving, this shows that despite the optimism of American analysts, even the maximum pressure sanctions are not having the desires financial affect. It is possible, however, for Kim Jong-un to see a significant enough shift in his prosperity to entertain the thought with the U.S.. Its increased friendliness with South Korea could also be a factor, having made them appear more collaborative than ever.
North Korea is now showing discretion and making an effort to collaborate with other world powers. Some believe this is because of the aforementioned sanctions, but this is due to an increase in influence and an ability to actually negotiate its own terms as a nation. Kim is being given exactly what he has wanted, a seat at the table. After years of avoiding cooperation or outright lying that it is cooperating, the country has met with the U.S. president Donald Trump in June 2018. During this time, the two leaders appeared to get along very well, both engaged in flattery and expressed trust in one another. A United States president has never met with a North Korean leader before and such an intense and positive reaction is a major surprise, (Yoonjung Seo and James Griffiths, North Korea’s Kim has ‘Unwavering Trust’ in Trump, South Korea Says). The personal relationship between Kim and Trump was thought to be a sign of the potential to make an actual viable agreement. During this meeting Kim had stated that he wanted to clear the Korean peninsula of all nuclear weapons. He declared a goal of shared peace. The Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA, reported that it is South and North Korea’s permanent desire to remove nuclear threat and war from the peninsula. The nations wish to share mutual peace from the combined efforts of the North and the South. The talks with Trump produced a similar statement of sugary idealizations, with a sharp contrast to reality. The public preference of all parties involved is no nuclear weapons for Korea, north or south. Those talks that praised Trump and Kim so highly stalled because once the work needed to actually get done, neither party was able to concede things that the other wanted, (Yoonjung Seo and James Griffith, North Korea’s Kim has ‘Unwavering Trust’ in Trump, South Korea Says). After the stall The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo cancelled his trip to Pyongyang, stating that it wasn’t the right time. The White House also blames China for hurting the negotiations by undermining the sanctions that analysts believe caused North Korea to come to heel. Oliver Hothman,the Korean Risk Groups managing editor, compared the U.S. and South Korea’s relationship to North Korea as ‘good cop, bad cop’. Now that the talks are stalled, the less intense South Korea has had to step in and bridge the gap again working as a mediator for the U.S. But the relationship between the North and South Korea is growing. There have been family reunions, a possible joint sports team in the upcoming asian games and the impending signing of a peace treaty to officially end the Korean war, (Choe Sang-Hun, North and South Korea Set Bold Goals: A Final Peace and No Nuclear Arms). This could be a problem for the U.S., because South Korea needs to maintain a position as steadfast as the United States in its denuclearizing. If South Korea begins to act in favor of the interests of North Korea, because of a burgeoning partnership then the U.S. will need to find another partner in its efforts, but China is not very cooperative and Japan is too reliant on the U.S. to have influence on North Korea.
Another hindrance to progress is that each nations interpretation of denuclearization is different. The United States interpretation of denuclearization is to give every nuclear weapon and missile up and to allow for regular inspections to ensure that there are no new development, (Nyshka Chandran,’Denuclearization’, likely means different things to Trump and Kim Jong Un) North Korea’s opinions on this, however are not nearly as intensive. It is mutual steps and the United States relinquishing its nuclear shield over Japan and South Korea. North Korea doesn’t want to be left defenseless in a region where American military operations are so close and well armed. The American precondition of denuclearizing before even sitting down to talk is foolish. Especially because North Korea has always had a major fear of an attack from the U.S. military. It is one of the reasons they developed the weapons in the first place, for security.
In analyzing why North Korea has sacrificed so much to develop nuclear weapons, we can see these same reasons apply to other nations. The reason are simple to understand and relate too. The country is opening up under Kim Jong-un, though not close to America in personal freedoms, it is making small strides of its own. Its nuclear capabilities have remains a scare tactic that gave them a platform to speak, so it isn’t wise for them to denuclearize. In general, no one nations owns the rights to create nuclear weapons. Not even the hegemon, The United States, so the country doesn’t have a right to ask another nation to drop its only measure of assured security. Washington also is not working on mutual sacrifice. The white house needs to address the reasons North Korea gained nuclear weapons. America wants to see these changes in North Korea, but what does this mean for its future? What would happen if they were left at the whim of America? From North Korea’s perspective an invasion is likely and like Iraq, the U.S. could lie and then topple the country in the name of democracy, (David C. Kang, Why Should North Korea Give up its Nuclear Weapons?). North Korea, despite some assertions of western media, does fear a nuclear war. No nation wants the world to end. Mutual assured destruction is airtight logical reasoning in not launching an attack. The United States, if hit with a nuclear weapon, could easily wipe the nation off the face of the earth, so North Korea would gain nothing from actually launching these weapons. Even if North Korea decided to attack other east asian countries, it would have to be weary of a second strike attack from the United States. Overall, despite its track record, North Korea should not denuclearize completely. It could suspend its program and remove a certain amount of weapons, but only if the economic sanctions are fully lifted. There should also be a request for a reform of its censorship, rations, punishments, and the overall suffering of its people. If the country is able to make these transitions then it should be allowed a role in international economic activity. There should also be a small shift in the American militaries position in the area to remove the immediate threat. Each country is trying to look out for its own safety, so they should be allowed a measure that gives them this. This view is unpopular, but if we look beyond a democratic world view, and view this at a structural level, we can understand that the sacrifices that are being demanded are too high. North Korea’s other sins should be dealt with separately, but the emphasis should not be on its nuclear weapon capabilities.
- Davenport, Kelsey. “Fact Sheets & Briefs.” Can the U.S. and Russia Avert a New Arms Race? | Arms Control Association, Arms Control Association, June 2018, www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/Nuclearweaponswhohaswhat.
- Evans, Gareth. “How Leisure Time Is Changing for North Korea’s Privileged.” BBC News, BBC, 22 Apr. 2018, www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-42910896.
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- Mosher, Dave. “North Korea Is Not Building Nuclear Weapons to Destroy the US – the Real Reasons Are Much More Surprising.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 21 Jan. 2018, www.businessinsider.com/reason-north-korea-needs-nukes-deterrence-vs-expansion-2018-1.
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- Rosenfeld, Everett, and Nyshka Chandran. “Trump Says He and Kim Are ‘Going Right Now for a Signing’.” CNBC, CNBC, 12 June 2018, www.cnbc.com/2018/06/11/donald-trump-and-kim-jong-un-meet-at-historic-summit-in-singapore.html.
- Sang-hun, Choe. “North and South Korea Set Bold Goals: A Final Peace and No Nuclear Arms.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 27 Apr. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/04/27/world/asia/north-korea-south-kim-jong-un.html.
- Sang-hun, Choe. “Sanctions Are Hurting North Korea. Can They Make Kim Give In?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 Apr. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/04/20/world/asia/north-korea-trump-sanctions-kim-jong-un.html.
- “US Sanctions Top Kim Jong-Un Aides over North Korea Human Rights Violations.” South China Morning Post, South China Morning Post, 10 Dec. 2018, www.scmp.com/news/asia/east-asia/article/2177346/us-sanctions-top-kim-jong-un-aides-over-north-korea-human-rights.
- Wertz, Daniel, et al. “North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Profile.” Ncnk.org, The National Committee of North Korea, Apr. 2018, www.ncnk.org/resources/publications/DPRK-Nuclear-Weapons-Issue-Brief.pdf.
- “What to Know About the Sanctions on North Korea.” Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Foreign Relations, www.cfr.org/backgrounder/what-know-about-sanctions-north-korea.
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