North by North Korea


With reports of North Korea’s continued defiance of international sanctions to advance its military programs, Robert Dunne examines the ‘threat’ the country poses

It is known that North Korea like to think of themselves, when promoting their weapons programs, as a force to be reckoned with globally; as a military threat to the United States and the West. Using this program they try and blackmail the governments of the western world into giving them much needed aid with the threats of military attacks.

Throughout the past few weeks this has quite arguably backfired as another set of sanctions have been imposed on North Korea, due to their defiance of the previous set of 2006 and 2009 UN sanctions which forbid the creation of nuclear weapons. It is believed by many that the country is ready for a third nuclear test. The threat of a rocket launch comes days after the US backed UN resolution “to censure and sanction”. This set of sanctions include an asset freeze and travel ban, and they affect four companies, a bank and the development of the nation’s space program.

North Korea has shown little sign of backing down with Kim Jong-un speaking of the need to use force instead of diplomacy and the need to target the United States. It is believed by many that the country is ready for a third nuclear test.  However if they do decide to go ahead with the strike it’s highly likely that the nuclear tests will be designed to fail.

Many people in Japan, South Korea and the US believe that North Korea is a threat. In 2002 George W. Bush went so far as to state that North Korea was an “axis of evil” aligning it with Iraq and Iran.

On the surface North Korea seems threatening, it is a country with one million active reserves and the ability to recruit two million more. Despite this however, they would be incapable of going to war or defending themselves from South Korea and the United States. Most of the military technology North Korea possesses pre-date the 1950s. The country also lacks the most basic resources, with over 17 million people suffering from malnutrition. Energy and basic fuel are in short supply with frequent black outs. The military technology and resources of the United States, who have 22 thousand troops based along the Korean border combined with the strength of the South Korean army with three million in reserve, would be more than a match for the North Korean army.

Secondly, within a wartime scenario, any foreign military assistance to North Korea would be highly unlikely. Their two most important allies, China and Russia, have openly opposed its nuclear weapons program and have sought peace within the region. China has backed the recent UN sanctions; a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry Qin Gang has called for the revival of the 6 party talks (consisting of China, Japan, Russia, North Korea, South Korea and the United States) to negotiate aid for disarmament.

The desperate living conditions within North Korea has lead to massive refugee problem for China with an estimated 200 thousand North Korean immigrants living in China today, it is in the interest of the Chinese Government to try and ensure that nothing takes place that could increase the number of refugees seeking asylum. In the past North Korea has done nuclear tests in order to try and scare politicians into giving them aid, often times this is done when the economy is bad and they feel as if China is not providing them with enough support, China’s backing of UN sanctions is one example of this.

The only way a serious threat to South Korea, the United States or neighbouring countries will manifest itself, is if there were to be a crisis of leadership within the army. During the reign of Kim Jong-un’s father, communication in the army amongst high ranking officials was completely eroded; any general and officers within different divisions had to contact the Kim Jong Il directly if they wished to communicate with someone within a different division. This lead to the creation of one of Kim Jong Il’s other titles: “the central brain”.

Kim Jong Il had said to one of his advisors (who has since defected) that if North Korea did strike the United States, the US would retaliate with thousands of missiles of their own and they would be completely destroyed. There is more evidence that the they are scared of the US to be seen in Kim Jong Il going into hiding shortly after the US invaded Iraq. Given Kim Jong-un’s lack of experience, it is likely that he will continue his father’s legacy.

If foreign intervention were to occur, or if North Korea made a very serious attempt at trying to provoke the United States into a war, the results would be horrific for North Korea. A war with the US and South Korea would be suicidal. For the political elite in North Korean society, the aim is not to provoke a war but the priority is the survival regime for the sake of their own interests.

The ‘People’s Republic’ has a reputation for responding with harsh attacks and threats when the worlds leaders try and implement sanctions or disapprove of its behaviour. The sanctions that affect North Korea are not at all serious compared to those that affected other countries such as the US embargoes imposed on Cuba and Haiti. Even compared to the 2006 and 2009 UN Sanctions on the state that saw a ban on luxury goods as well as nuclear weapons, the current sanctions are little more than a slap on the wrist. It is highly unlikely they would strike with force over such a minor incident. All can remain calm for now.