Why does North Korea want to currently reach such a nuclear threshold as to threaten Japan, South Korea, the Southern Asian seas and, obviously, the US bases in the Pacific, as well as the North American mainland?
Because it fears to be invaded from the South or from the sea, with an integrated action on its coast by South Korea and the United States, with the Japanese support off the coast.
The North Korean Republic fears to be invaded because it is close to countries which are also obliged to support and influence it, not through the Marxist-Leninist ideology but with geography, namely China and Russia.
Hence it fears that the price of support will become too high for the country to be able to pay it without a “socialist” regime change, such as that of Deng Xiaoping’s China, or with Russia’s statist nationalism.
These countries are such as to influence North Korea by helping the Juche (self-reliance) regime at increasingly higher, and ultimately unsustainable, strategic costs for the country.
Furthermore, one of the ideological foundations of the North Korean regime is its very clear autonomy from the rest of the world – hence, as much as possible, also from Russia and China.
Moreover, after Kim-Jong Un’s rise to power, North Korea has turned the primary national and international policy line from Songun (“military first”), which was his father’s and Kim-Il Sung’s policy, into a directive called Byungijin, namely the parallel development of economy and defense.
Since the beginning of Kim-Jong Un’s reign significant reforms have been implemented: the downsizing of common farms, fewer checks on the distribution system and greater availability of money have enabled peasants to retain a larger share of crops so as to give rise to a small-scale free local economy.
It is worth recalling that agriculture was the focus of Deng Xiaoping’s “First Modernization” in China.
At military level, however, the Byungjin policy line envisages that, in strategic planning, preference be given to nuclear weapons: the civilian or military nuclear technology is cheaper than the conventional one, which also depends on a separation between “gun workers” – as Mao Zedong called them – and “plow workers”.
Too much military labour force takes men and women away from the production system and this does not certainly go in the direction desired by Kim-Jong Un.
Furthermore always portraying the leader of an “enemy” country as a madman – as the West has being doing since Hitler’s times – is really an act of madness on our part.
The effects of the timid economic reform are obviously very slow and cyclical and this is the reason why the friendly China did not allow North Korea to be admitted into the new Asian Infrastructure Development Bank in 2016.
It is also worth recalling that Xi Jinping, whose PCC is monitoring the situation in North Korea closely, has not yet paid any official visit to North Korea’s capital town.
While North Korea’s nuclear armed forces are worth only 2-3% of GDP per year, according to the most reliable Western indirect estimates, the development of missile and nuclear weapons is an almost compulsory economic-strategic option for Kim-Jong Un, who wants an internal economic reform following the pathway of China’s “Four Modernizations”, but does not certainly want to lose power or change its nature.
Hence for North Korea it is the globalization of a regional threat: the North Korean regime wants to directly threaten the United States in the Pacific and on its national territory. It wants to force the traditional allies such as Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan to defend it also beyond their national and local interests and it finally wants to oblige Westerners to help its economy and allow its steady expansion, with the unconventional threat.
Missile explosions and the new thermonuclear weapons, such as the one detonated on January 9, 2016 – which North Korea declared to be miniaturized, and hence potentially threatening even for long-range targets – suggest that, once finished the phase of the 5+1 negotiations and international agreements, North Korea now wants to make its status as nuclear power be accepted as a simple fait accompli.
And the new small wealth secured by savings on conventional forces will be used exactly for this purpose, considering that the new North Korean leadership is clearly no longer interested in negotiating a new strategic set-up with countries that are ever less interested in solving the problem.
Or with countries which are particularly interested in the “usual curse” of the State which does not comply with international rules, invented by others alone.
Or with countries which are only interested in “showing their flag”, as is the case with the recent US naval mission in the Korean regional sea, which, however – as the New York Times has recently revealed – had no particular characteristics of deterrence vis-à-vis North Korea.
How could we rationally oppose the new strategic North Korean posture, which is developing its non-conventional technologies along three directions: the dual space technology, submarine nuclear missiles and the ground handling of mobile launching bases?
Either the unstable South Korea is armed with nuclear technologies, which would make North Korea’s weapons increase significantly, or the South is protected with THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) – as has already happened – or, finally, a new agreement is negotiated with North Korea.
How can this be done? The possible courses of action I envisage would be the following: a) a guarantee for developing the Special Economic Zones, the seven areas which attract regional capital into North Korea with great difficulty; b) the political and strategic act of recognizing the North Korean government’s legitimacy, thus putting an end to the old and trite memory of that war in Asia, which – however – was triggered off by two parallel mistakes by General MacArthur and Communist guerrillas in the North; c) North Korea’s entry into a new Regional Security Union that would stabilize Japan’s, the Russian Federation’s, China’s, South Korea’s and the United States’ interests; d) the establishment of an International Fund for the Development of the Korean Peninsula, to which all the local countries that wish so may adhere; and d) a multilateral treaty, with the usual guarantees, putting an end to North Korea’s nuclear escalation and preserving its status reached at the time of signature, as well as envisaging credible sanctions in the event of North Korea infringing the Treaty.
Hence, if we do not follow Bob Gallucci’s line, who – as a typical Italo-American – says that the “North Korean issue is not like good wine” which improves by aging, we will not manage to get out of this situation, getting enmeshed by a theatrical strategy that only serves media and does not solve anything, or by the even worse choice of threatening North Korea militarily.
This gets us away from Russia and China which already have their disputes with North Korea, but are essential to bring peace to the region.
And this also makes North Korea’s policy even more aggressive and its rearmament faster.
Hence, as Bob Gallucci teaches us, we must negotiate with North Korea multilaterally, because the plurality of actors sitting at the same negotiating table does not enable North Korea to threaten us or wring concessions from the United States alone. Furthermore North Korea will feel how important, decisive and definitive are the pressures of friends or opponents in the same round of negotiations.
Paradoxically, in a recent essay, Bob Gallucci says that “the United States and North Korea want the same thing.”
Which one? The regime change. The United States believes that there should be a political and strategic change in North Korea and the same is wished by North Korea for the United States vis-à-vis itself.
Also South Korea, concerned about the possible nuclear war against North Korea, does not like solutions based on a show of strength that would destabilize South Korea as a NATO attack on the Warsaw Pact would have destabilized the Federal Republic of Germany, which was mainly thinking of reunification – exactly what many people still want in South Korea.
Furthermore, in Bob Gallucci’s opinion, doing business with North Korea is better than threatening sanctions, which are often politically useless and easy to circumvent or, sometimes, even harmful.
Therefore, within a multilateral approach, it is currently still necessary to: (a) stop the substantially useless North Korean nuclear program, because the political goals of that operation are reached with negotiations; b) initiate political normalization, which is also a goal of the North Korean regime that has no interest in being regarded as the global rogue State; c) provide some economic assistance, and, in exchange for it, d) be provided strategic reassurances on the security of the region by North Korea.
Furthermore, if North Korea were to win its current “war of nerves” with the United States, the future scenario could be that of Japan’s nuclear rearmament and widespread insecurity of South Korea, which could also turn to China for its strategic projection – hence the nuclear balance will disappear in the geopolitical heart of Asia.
It is not an acceptable perspective, at least for us.
GIANCARLO ELIA VALORI
Honorable de l’Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France