2. North Korea’s Internal Situation
Kim Jong-un’s Rule
Purges of High-Level Officials
Information Flows In and Out of North Korea
3. Sources and Objectives of North Korea Foreign Policy
Identity, Values, and Negotiating Behavior
Puzzles and Constructivist Approach
Objectives of North Korea’s Foreign Policy
Duality of National Interests
Leader Dominant System
Sources of North Korea’s Foreign Policy
4. North Korean Security Threats
North Korea’s Weapons of Mass Destruction
Chemical and Biological Weapons
North Korea’s Missile Programs
Regional Missile Defense Systems
North Korea’s Conventional Military Forces
North Korea’s Cyberattack Capabilities
5. Recent Developments
North Korea’s January 2016 Nuclear Weapon Test
North Korea Economic Conditions
6. History of Nuclear Negotiations
7. Economic Engagement with North Korea
Kim Jong-Un’s Leadership and International Isolation
The US Disengagement
Decline in South Korea’s Engagement
8. The North Korea Problem and China
Interests, Debates, and Roadmaps
National Interests of China
A China-Style Logic for Problem Solving and a Roadmap
9. Explaining Japan’s North Korea Policy
The US Alliance as a Factor
Japanese Approach to the Problem
10. The North Korea Problem from South Korea’s Perspective
The South Korea Perspective
The North Korea Problem Ressolution
11. U.S. Engagement Activities with North Korea
North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons and the United States
National Interests at Stake for the United States
US Approach to the problem
“Strategic Patient” Approach
The North Korean military: is it still a real threat and is Kim in control?
Why are violent provocations still a compelling threat?
How likely is North Korean collapse in the near future?
Countering North Korean threats: the role of the ROK-US alliance
The key to survival: is Kim Jong-un in control of the key institutions?
This study tries to examine how North Korea’s unique political culture and ideology shapes North Korea’s identity and interests in order to better explain its interactions with the international community. It also explains the significance of understanding how the competitive environment guided North Korea’s non-cooperative behavior and how a fixed negative image led to deepening of North Korea’s defiant actions.
North Korea has presented one of the most vexing and persistent problems in U.S. foreign policy in the post-Cold War period. The United States has never had formal diplomatic relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (the official name for North Korea), although since 2000 contact at a lower level has ebbed and flowed. Negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program have occupied the past three U.S. administrations, even as some analysts anticipated a collapse of the isolated authoritarian regime. North Korea has been the recipient of over $1 billion in U.S. aid (though none since 2009) and the target of dozens of U.S. sanctions.
U.S. interests in North Korea encompass serious security, political, and human rights concerns. Bilateral military alliances with the Republic of Korea (ROK, the official name for South Korea) and Japan obligate the United States to defend these allies from any attack from the North. Tens of thousands of U.S. troops occupying the largest U.S. military bases in the Pacific are stationed within striking range of North Korean missiles. An outbreak of conflict on the Korean peninsula or the collapse of the government in Pyongyang would have severe implications for the regional—if not global—economy. Negotiations and diplomacy surrounding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program influence U.S. relations with all the major powers in the region and have become a complicating factor for U.S.-China ties.
Negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program began in the early 1990s under the Clinton Administration. As U.S. policy toward Pyongyang evolved through the 2000s, the negotiations moved from a bilateral format to the multilateral Six-Party Talks (made up of China, Japan, Russia, North Korea, South Korea, and the United States). Although the talks reached some key agreements that laid out deals for aid and recognition to North Korea in exchange for denuclearization, major problems with implementation persisted. The talks have been suspended throughout the Obama Administration. As diplomacy remains stalled, North Korea continues to develop its nuclear and missile programs in the absence of any agreement it considers binding. Security analysts are concerned about this growing capability, as well as the potential for proliferation to other actors.
After North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s death in December 2011, his youngest son, Kim Jong- un, has consolidated authority as supreme leader. Kim has ruled brutally, carrying out large-scale purges of senior officials. He has declared a two-track policy (the byungjin line) that pursues economic development and nuclear weapons development. Market-oriented reforms announced in 2014 appear to be producing modest economic growth for some citizens, but the reforms are small in scale and reversible. North Korea continues to insist that it be recognized as a nuclear- armed state and in January 2016 conducted its fourth nuclear weapon test. North Korea is already under multiple international sanctions required by the United Nations Security Council in response to its repeated missile and nuclear tests.
In 2012, the U.S.-North Korean “Leap Day” agreement fell apart after Pyongyang launched a long-range ballistic missile in April, followed by a more successful launch and a third nuclear test in February 2013. During this period, North Korea’s relations with China apparently cooled and have remained tense. Pyongyang has made fleeting, mostly unsuccessful attempts to reach out to other countries in the region. Simultaneously, international attention to North Korea’s human rights violations intensified at the United Nations and in official U.S. statements.
In the long run, the ideal outcome remains, presumably, reunification of the Korean peninsula under stable democratic rule.1 At this point, however, the road to that result appears fraught with risks. If the Pyongyang regime falls due to internal or external forces, the potential for major strategic consequences (including competition for control of the North’s nuclear arsenal) and a massive humanitarian crisis, not to mention long-term strategic, economic, and social repercussions, looms large. In the interim, policymakers face deep challenges in even defining achievable objectives, let alone reaching them.
1 “Joint Vision for the Alliance of the United States of America and the Republic of Korea,” the White House, Office of the Press Secretary, June 16, 2009, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Joint-vision-for-the-alliance-of-the- United-States-of-America-and-the-Republic-of-Korea.
Although the primary focus of U.S. policy toward North Korea is the nuclear weapons program, there are a host of other contentious issues, including Pyongyang’s missile programs, conventional military forces, illicit activities, and abysmal human rights record
2. North Korea’s Internal Situation
Kim Jong-un appears to have consolidated power at the apex of the North Korean regime, though uncertainty remains about the regime and its priorities, given the opaque nature of the North Korean state. The Kim regime has been promoting a two-track policy (the so-called byungjin line) of economic development and nuclear weapons development, explicitly rejecting the efforts of external forces to make North Korea choose between one or the other. Initially, some observers held out hope that the young, European-educated Kim could emerge as a reformer, but his behavior since has not indicated a plan to change the country’s political system. In fact, his ruthless drive to consolidate power demonstrates a keen desire to keep the dictatorship intact.
a. Kim Jong-un’s Rule
Kim Jong-un has displayed a different style of ruling than his father while hewing closely to the policies established before his December 2011 succession as supreme leader. Kim has allowed Western influences, such as clothing styles and Disney characters, to be displayed in the public sphere, and he is informal in his frequent public appearances. In a stark change from his father’s era, Kim Jong-un’s wife was introduced to the North Korean public. Analysts depict these stylistic changes as an attempt to make Kim seem young and modern and to conjure associations with the “man of the people” image cultivated by his grandfather, the revered founder of North Korea, Kim Il-sung.
Rhetoric from the Kim Jong-un regime has emphasized improving the quality of life for North Korean citizens. North Korea has been experimenting with economic reforms: breaking up farming collectives into individual household units to increase supply incentives, allowing private investments into businesses (with official approval), and allowing businesses to pay workers based on performance, for example. The range of modern amenities available to the privileged residents of Pyongyang has expanded to include items like modified smartphones and European cosmetics—luxuries unheard of outside the uppermost elite just years ago—while most North Koreans outside the capital region continue to live in meager circumstances.
The Kim Jong-un regime has promoted the rapid growth of special economic zones (SEZs). The Kim regime appears to believe that SEZs can be one way for North Korea to import foreign capital, technology, and business knowledge without spreading unorthodox ideas among the wider population. (Reportedly, Chinese officials for decades have encouraged North Korea to emulate the example of China, in which SEZs played a critical role in the transition from a communist economic system to a market-based system.) The prospects for the North Korean SEZs are mixed; the strategic location and deep-water port of the Rajin-Sonbong (Rason) SEZ have led to major development in recent years, but the poor infrastructure and weak investment protections at other SEZs do not bode well for foreign investment.17
b. Purges of High-Level Officials
Kim Jong-un has purged dozens of other high-ranking officials since he came to power. In May 2015, Defense Minister Hyon Yong-chol reportedly was executed. Of the seven men who had been presumed to be part of Kim Jong-il’s inner circle and had walked with Kim Jong-un during his father’s funeral, five have been purged or demoted, including Ri Yong-ho, then-Chief of Staff of the North Korean military, who was purged in 2012. Kim executed 17 high-ranking officials in 2012, 10 in 2013, 41 in 2014, and at least 15 in 2015.18 The purges seem to have increased for a period after Jang’s execution in late 2013. According to South Korean intelligence sources, roughly 20-30% of senior party officials and over 40% of senior military officials have been replaced since Kim took power.19 Many analysts interpret this trend as a sign of Kim’s insecurity and argue that the regime might become unstable, as top officials within the regime face more uncertainty with regard to their positions and lives.20 On the other hand, the purges may have eliminated potential rivals to Kim’s absolute control over the North Korean state.
17 Andray Abrahamian, “The ABCs of North Korea’s SEZs,” US-Korea Institute at SAIS, November 19, 2014.
18 Han-bum Cho, “The Purge of Hyon Yong-chol and Risk Factors of the Kim Jong-un Regime,” Korea Institute for National Unification, Seoul, 13 May 2015: 3.
19 “Over 40% of N.Korean Brass Replaced in Purges,” Chosun Ilbo, July 15, 2015.
20 Maeve Shearlaw, “Purges and Political Manoeuvres: How Volatile Is Kim Jong-un?” The Guardian London, May 13, 2015.
c. Information Flows In and Out of North Korea
The North Korean regime remains extraordinarily opaque, but a trickle of news works its way out through defectors and other channels. These forms of grass-roots information gathering, along with the public availability of high-quality satellite imagery, have democratized the business of intelligence on North Korea. In 2011, the Associated Press became the first Western news agency to open a bureau in Pyongyang, though its reporters are subject to severe restrictions. Previously, South Korean intelligence services had generally provided the bulk of information known about the North.
Pyongyang appears to be slowly losing its ability to control information flows from the outside world into North Korea. Surveys of North Korean defectors reveal that some within North Korea are growing increasingly wary of government propaganda and turning to outside sources of news, especially foreign radio broadcasts, which are officially illegal.21 After a short-lived attempt in 2004, North Korea in 2009 restarted a mobile phone network, in cooperation with the Egyptian telecommunications firm Orascom. The mobile network reportedly has over 2.4 million subscribers, and foreigners using mobile phones in North Korea can now make international calls and access the Internet.22 Although phone conversations in North Korea are monitored, the spread of cell phones should enable faster and wider dissemination of information. A paper published by the Harvard University Belfer Center in 2015 argues that a campaign to spread information about the outside world within North Korea could produce positive changes in the political system there.23
21 Marcus Noland, “Pyongyang Tipping Point,” Wall Street Journal op-ed, April 12, 2010.
22 Martyn Williams, “Koryolink Subscriptions Hit 2.4 Million,” North Korea Tech blog, September 8, 2014, http://www.northkoreatech.org/2014/09/08/koryolink-subscriptions-hit-2-4-million.
23 Jieun Baek, “Hack and Frack North Korea: How Information Campaigns Can Liberate the Hermit Kingdom,” Harvard University, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, April 2015.
3. Sources and Objectives of North Korea Foreign Policy
a. Identity, Values, and Negotiating Behavior
The Kim Jong Un (KJU) regime, since its inception, has ratcheted up tension on the Korean Peninsula. His decision to dishonor what he had agreed to—a moratorium on nuclear tests and long-range missile launches as well as the return of IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspectors to Yongbyon—at several rounds of bilateral talks with the United States in February 2012 confirmed the belief that North Korea is a historically unpredictable and unreliable actor. Because the new North Korean leadership needed to fulfill its promise that North Korea would enter an “era of being a strong and prosperous nation” pursuing economic recovery by easing tension through reconciliation with the international community, including the United States, was of significance. North Korea could have obtained nutritional assistance including corn, soy beans, vegetable oils, and ready-to-eat therapeutic food, but instead it initiated a string of provocations and hostile threats, which brought China’s patience to the limits, strengthened UN sanctions, and consolidated the US position not to engage with North Korea before Pyongyang shows concrete steps for denuclearization. Hence, for the international observers, North Korea’s gamble seemed to be a grave mistake.
Arguably, the sudden death of Kim Jong Il (KJI) and the accession to power of KJU made North Korea even more unpredictable. Because the international media expected that the Western-educated North Korean leader would move the country toward more reform and openness, North Korea’s attempt to amplify its rhetorical threats against South Korea and the United States increased the uncertainty regarding North Korea’s future course of actions. Indeed, foreign policy analysts seem to split on whether the last wave of threats from December 2012 to April 2013, including nullifying the armistice treaty and cutting hot-lines between the two Koreas is indicative of North Korea’s intention to escalate tension toward a possible military confrontation, or a much-calculated diplomatic maneuver.
b. Puzzles and Constructivist Approach
Taking a closer look into the history of North Korea’s foreign relations, one can note that it is full of contradiction and complexity. North Korea deepened its self-imposed isolation, but it also heavily relied on foreign aid and assistance. It first joined the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty on Nuclear Weapons) and then withdrew from it; it agreed on denuclearization and then abandoned opportunities for improving its relations with others; it developed nuclear weapons at the risk of provoking its regional neighbors and alienated further the international community despite the urgent need for international aid. Nonetheless, to a certain degree, North Korea has demonstrated a consistent behavioral pattern despite changes and shifts in its surrounding conditions.
The prism through which the international community viewed North Korea was mostly nuclear brinkmanship diplomacy. However, whether North Korea’s behavior is driven by the structural context as it contends or Pyongyang is just playing a game of so-called brinkmanship needs thorough examination. Realist approaches explain a state’s response to an existential threat as an effort to secure useful shields against adversarial aggression, or to balance against a powerful rival. North Korea, with a long history of engaging in military confrontation, may be actively seeking nuclear weapons as a means of terminating a struggle with its foe1 or, it may be passively compelled to develop a similar capability of its own to protect itself from its adversary’s military threat.2 However, North Korea’s behavior, so incomprehensible that one cannot decipher it, cannot be construed simply as a reaction to the external stimulus..3 According to the logic that non-nuclear countries without a nuclear umbrella feel that they may ultimately have to rely on nuclear weapons, North Korea would become one of the nuclear candidates that are concerned foremost with their unique security concerns.4 However, such views do not adequately explain why North Korea’s nuclear crisis broke out when tension on the Korean Peninsula began to thaw or why North Korea pursued nuclear and missile capabilities at the risk of embarrassing China and Russia. In this regard, to interest-based theorists, Pyongyang’s seemingly confusing decision seems like an anomaly.
1. Richard N. Rosecrance, “British Incentives to Become a Nuclear Power,” in The Dispersion of Nuclear Weapons, ed. Richard N. Rosecrance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1964).
2. Robert F. Goheen, “Problems of Proliferation: US Policy and the Third World,” World Politics 35, no. 2 (1983): 194–215.
3. William Epstein, “Why States Go—And Don’t Go—Nuclear,” Annals AAPSS 430 (March 1977): 16–38.
4. William R. Van Cleave and Harold W. Rood, “Spread of Nuclear Weapons,” Military Review 46 (December 1966): 3–10.
Neoliberal institutionalism’s utilitarian approaches can also provide a partial explanation of North Korea’s strategic mind. It is in North Korea’s interest to participate in the Six-Party Talks because it could reap gains by cooperating with the others.5 However, the rationale focusing on cost- benefit calculation of the states does not adequately explain why North Korea stepped back from the 1994 Geneva Agreed Framework through the Six-Party Talks in 2005 despite promised rewards.
5. Robert Keohane, “The Big Influence of Small Allies,” Foreign Policy 1 (1971): 162–3.
c. Objectives of North Korea’s Foreign Policy
In an antagonistic structure where legitimacy competition goes on between the two Koreas, three of its primary goals maintain North Korea’s continuing status as a revisionist state: (1) to seek ways to compensate for its inferiority in conventional forces with the development of asymmetric capability; (2) to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington to weaken domestic support for the US military presence in the South; (3) to utilize opportunities to infuse revolutionary ideas and cause disunity (so-called South-South conflict) within South Korean society.
d. Duality of National Interests
Since the Korean War, North Korea has pursued a revisionist path—the establishment of a unified state by force. Although North Korea turned into a status-quo oriented power during postwar rehabilitation and revitalization of its economy, North Korea resumed its revisionist tendencies and during these periods there were signs of political instability in the North. When North Korea was undergoing power transition, having problems with economic management, and tightening control of its people to forestall social instability, aggressiveness in its foreign policy was also noticeable.
North Korea’s aggressiveness can also be examined in light of its ceaseless attempts to delegitimize the South. The fact that the two Koreas engage in legitimacy competition makes North Korea perceive South Korea’s goal of absorption of the other half of the Peninsula as an existential threat. The two Koreas claim to be the sole legitimate governments for the entire Korean Peninsula, and North Korea’s foremost concern has been resolving the Korea division in its favor. Indeed, North Korea has employed a variety of covert and overt operations against the South since political instability in the South emerged in the 1960s and 1970s.8 In the recent rhetoric from North Korea its goal of revolutionizing the South is rarely mentioned, and North Korea’s communist influence on the South remains negligible.
8. For example, during the political turmoil under the regime of President Rhee Syngman, who declared martial law and jailed members of parliament leading to a student uprising, and under the military rule of President Park Chung Hee, who promulgated an emergency decree causing popular unrest. North Korea attempted high-profile provocations including the unsuc- cessful assassination of President Park, the hijacking of a Korean Airlines F-27 plane, and the digging of an infiltration tunnel across the DMZ (the demilitarized zone).
It should be noted that North Korea’s diplomatic outreach since the 1980s was employed to attract foreign investment by establishing full diplomatic relations with capitalist states. In the period of regime change in East Europe, North Korea aimed to remove threats on the Korean Peninsula and create a favorable environment for the restoration of its economy by normalizing relations with the United States and Japan.
What frustrated the international community was North Korea’s vacillating attitude between revisionist and pragmatic approaches, such as setting off a naval skirmish following an inter-Korea Red Cross meeting in October 2009 and shelling Yeonpyeong Island after the reunion of separated families in October 2010. However, it should also be noted that these are not isolated events and North Korea’s unique situation prompts it to consider multiple goals: (1) making a breakthrough in diplomatic and economic relations, (2) seeking a turning point to regain international attention, and at the same time (3) fending off external influence caused by partial openness. In the end, these two approaches are not distinct but related in light of the embodiment of North Korea’s ruling ideology Juche 12 through reinterpretation and adaptation. For Pyongyang watchers, North Korea’s foreign policy is full of abnormality. To understand North Korea’s erratic behavior, one needs to look at the uniqueness of North Korea’s foreign policy decision-making process.
12. North Korea’s ideology, Juche, means exercising autonomy.
e. Leader-dominant (yuil cheje) System.
One may be confused by the reports that North Korea strengthens leadership of the party over the military as an indication of change from a “military-first” to a “party-first” stance.16 A reference to military-first (Songun) politics was added to the party charter, which now says that “the Party will establish military-first politics as a basic political system of socialism.”17 On the anniversary of the military-first doctrine, KJU stressed again that the leadership of the Korea Worker’s Party is essential for the Korean People’s Army and that the two are inseparable. However, these changes should not be interpreted as a sign of shifting balance of power because there has never been a case where the party’s supremacy was overtaken by the military in North Korea’s history. Where the supreme leader directs his order changes, but what he orders may not. It should be noted that empowerment of the National Defense Commission was designed to give Kim Jong Il, Chairman of the National Defense Commission, more power to rule. Since his designation as an heir apparent, Kim Jong Un began his leadership career as a head of the Korea Worker’s Party Central Military Commission, which became a critical institution wherefrom he consolidated and exercised his power. North Korea’s foreign policy decision making is performed by a purposeful agent who acts with certain policy concepts.
16. “N. Korea might give up its military nation identity by shifting to party-first policy” in Korean, Dong-A Ilbo, 27 August 2013.
17. Charter of Korean Workers’ Party.
f. Sources of North Korea’s Foreign Policy
North Korea has long experienced difficulties in forming a collective social identity through positive interactions with other states. Hence, having a “corporate identity,”19 North Korea held pre-existing ideas about its national identity that guided its behavior toward the others, and the negative interactions that it experienced consolidated its negative identity.20
19. Wendt argues that a state with a corporate identity pursues selfish interests rather than collective interests in a condition where fear is great. Wendt, “Collective Identity Formation and the International State.”
20. Constructivists contend that a state’s corporate identity is the intrinsic quali- ties that constitute actor individuality, and this aspect of identity is based on domestic politics. Ronald L. Jepperson, Alexander Wendt, and Peter J. Katzenstein, “Norms, Identity, and Culture in National Security,” in TheCulture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics, ed. Peter J. Katzenstein (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 50.
First, the unique circumstance of North Korea as a highly militarized but small, weak country with a history of territorial invasion surrounded by super powers created North Korea’s unique identity.21 A state of alienation from its patrons and competition with South Korea worsened after the Cold War when North Korea’s leadership assumed responsibility to lead the country without dependence on external input. The lasting Cold War legacy on the Korean Peninsula made it impossible for North Korea to negotiate with the West on friendly terms, and the intricate relationship between the two Koreas involves the North-South rivalry and an absence of a trust-building mechanism.22
21. Moon Young Huh, Characteristics of North Korea’s Diplomacy and Prospect of Change (Seoul: Korea Institute of National Unification, 2001), 3.
22. Jina Kim, The North Korean Nuclear Weapons Crisis (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2014).
Second, reliance on the past hinders North Korea from making a complete departure from the past. KJI justified his power based on the legacy of KIS and consistently claimed his father’s mantle to legitimize the dynastic transition.23 Particularly after the second nuclear crisis broke out, KJI perpetuated his identification with his father through extensive propaganda. KJU, like his father, relied heavily on KIS’s legacy. For the first two years, he tried to mimic his grandfather’s gestures and appearance to invoke North Korea’s nostalgia for the relatively well-off era in the past. Emphasis on Songun during the KJI era continued for the first two years of the KJU regime.
23. Dae Sook Suh, Kim Il Sung: The North Korean Leader, 2nd ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 115.
Third, identifying North Korea as a tyrant regime brought huge repercussions. North Korea often mentioned that President Bush’s “part of an axis of evil” rhetoric and Secretary Condoleezza Rice’s reference to North Korea as one of the world’s “outposts of tyranny” were little short of declarations of war.24 Branding North Korea as a “rogue” could mean “denial of recognition” of the North Korean regime as a negotiating partner, and Pyongyang warned that it would not engage in a dialogue unless the United States showed it due respect.25 Although the Obama administration does not openly make verbal attacks on North Korea, the freedom agenda endorsed by those who had significant influence on US policy continues to antagonize North Korea, worsening its negative identification. The policy to spread democracy in countries under authoritarian regimes was viewed by North Korea as a grave threat to the regime and feared as an act of interference and a threat of contamination.26
24. “The US IS an Evil Empire,” Rodong Shinmun, 14 February 2002.
25. “Request for the US to Take Practical Actions to Implement the Agreed Framework,” KCNA, 3 March 2000.
26. “We Should Repel Ideological and Cultural Infiltration of Imperialism” Rodong Shinmun, 1 June 1999.
In addition, a complicated triangular relationship among the United States and two Koreas shaped an antagonistic structure in which check and balance, rather than cooperation based on shared interests, is dominant. On the one hand, North Korea is obsessed with fears of a concerted US-South Korea effort to promote its collapse.27 On the other hand, North Korea sees normalization of diplomatic relations with the United States as a critical component of keeping stability of its system. South Korea was in a position to consolidate its military alliance with the United States as the tension on the Korean Peninsula increased, but Seoul’s reaching out to Washington, not to Pyongyang, was viewed as an “act of betrayal” by North Korea.28
27. Selig Harrison, Korean Endgame: A Strategy for Reunification and US Disengagement (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002), 70.
28. “US Pirate Ship Arrived at Busan Port,” KCNA, 24 August 1998.
The North Korea nuclear issue was understood by the international community as a problem caused by Pyongyang. However, North Korea viewed the nuclear issue as an interconnected matter to be resolved by both sides. During the first nuclear crisis, North Korea asserted that the delay in nuclear negotiation originated from Washington’s ignorance of the principle of mutual respect and its lack of will to implement agreements simultaneously.38 During the second nuclear crisis, North Korea stressed a reciprocal relation in line with the principle of commitment for commitment and action for action, while the United States insisted on realizing denuclearization first and establishing a peace regime later. North Korea reasoned that its nuclear test was aimed at attracting international attention to consolidate its image as a nuclear weapons state and enhance its status as an equal partner of the nuclear talks.
38. “Nuclear Issue on the Korean Peninsula Can Be Resolved by Dialogue, Not by Pressure,” Rodong Shinmun, 12 November 1993.
North Korea has held on to the traditional concept of sovereign right as a principle of foreign policy. They perceive the concept of sovereignty in terms of noninterference rather than membership and reasonably good standing in the international community. The country’s leadership considers imposed demands to be an extraordinary infringement of its sovereign rights.39 For North Korea, defeating threats caused by the nuclear crisis can be understood as a means to ensure sovereignty, and overcoming the crisis in a creative fashion serves the goal of realizing self-determination. Warning that the United States would be responsible for all the measures taken by North Korea, Pyongyang rationalized a “struggle” against any attempt to threaten its sovereign right.40 All of these suggest that North Korea’s decision making stemming from culture-of-honor norms is part of its foreign policy.
39. “Legitimacy of Independent Foreign Policy of the Korean Worker’s Party,” Rodong Shinmun, 28 August 2002.
40. “Realizing Autonomy of Our Nation is the Basis of Being the Master of Our Destiny,” Rodong Shinmun, 2 July 1998.
4. North Korean Security Threats
a. North Korea’s Weapons of Mass Destruction
North Korea has active nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs. The 2015 Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Worldwide Threat Assessment stated, “Because of deficiencies in their conventional military forces, North Korean leaders are focused on developing missile and WMD capabilities, particularly building nuclear weapons.”24
24 James Clapper, Statement for the Record on the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, February 16, 2011.
U.S. analysts remain concerned about the pace and success of North Korea’s nuclear weapons development. The DNI assesses that North Korea views its nuclear capabilities as intended for “deterrence, international prestige, and coercive diplomacy.” North Korea has said that it will not get rid of its nuclear weapons until all the other nuclear weapons states do so. North Korea announced on January 6, 2016, that it successfully tested a “hydrogen bomb” (its fourth nuclear weapon test since 2006 and first since February 2013). The U.S. government confirmed that the underground explosion was a nuclear test, but a White House spokesman said that initial data was “not consistent” with North Korean claims of detonating a full-fledged thermonuclear hydrogen bomb. North Korea’s first three nuclear weapons tests were of fission devices.25
25 See also CRS Insight IN10428, North Korea’s January 6, 2016, Nuclear Test, by Mary Beth D. Nikitin.
Generally, countries would test a boosted fission weapon as the next step after testing fission weapons, on the path to developing a hydrogen bomb. This type of device would be lighter in weight and smaller in size than a fission weapon with comparable yield. The U.S. intelligence community has said that the prime objective of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is to develop a nuclear warhead that is “miniaturized” or sufficiently small to be mounted on long- range ballistic missiles, but assessments of progress have differed. The official position of the DNI is that “North Korea has not yet demonstrated the full range of capabilities necessary for a nuclear armed missile.”26 Miniaturization likely would require additional nuclear and missile tests. Perhaps the most acute near-term threat to other nations is from the medium-range Nodong missile, which could reach all of the Korean Peninsula and some of mainland Japan. Some experts assess that North Korea likely has the capability to mount a nuclear warhead on the Nodong missile.27
26 James Clapper, “DNI Statement on North Korea’s Nuclear Capability,” Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Press Release, April 11, 2013.
27 David Albright, “North Korean Miniaturization,” US-Korea Institute at SAIS, February 22, 2013.
The North Korean nuclear program began in the late 1950s with cooperation agreements with the Soviet Union on a nuclear research program near Yongbyon. Its first research reactor began operation in 1967. North Korea used indigenous expertise and foreign procurements to build a small nuclear reactor at Yongbyon (5 MWe). It was capable of producing about 6 kilograms (kg) of plutonium per year and began operating in 1986.28 Later that year, U.S. satellites detected high explosives testing and a new plant to separate plutonium from the reactor’s spent fuel (a chemical reprocessing plant).
28 5 MWe is a power rating for the reactor, indicating that it produces 5 million watts of electricity per day (very small). Reactors are also described in terms of million watts of heat (MW thermal).
While North Korea’s weapons program has been plutonium-based from the start, intelligence emerged in the late 1990s pointing to a second route to a bomb using highly enriched uranium. North Korea openly acknowledged a uranium enrichment program in 2009, but has said its purpose is the production of fuel for nuclear power. In November 2010, North Korea showed visiting American experts early construction of a 100 MWT light-water reactor and a newly built gas centrifuge uranium enrichment plant, both at the Yongbyon site. The North Koreans claimed the enrichment plant was operational, but this has not been independently confirmed. U.S. officials have said that it is likely other clandestine enrichment facilities exist. Enrichment (as well as reprocessing) technology can be used to produce material for nuclear weapons or fuel for power reactors. An enrichment capability could potentially provide North Korea with a faster way of making nuclear material for weapons and therefore is of great concern to policymakers. Estimates of enriched uranium stockpiles are not publicly available due to the lack of open-source information about the size and capacity of the program.
It is difficult to estimate warhead and material stockpiles due to lack of transparency and uncertainty about weapons design. U.S. official statements have not given warhead total estimates, but recent scholarly analyses give low, medium, and high scenarios for the amount of fissile material North Korea could produce by 2020, and therefore the potential number of nuclear warheads. If production estimates are correct, the low-end estimate for that study was 20 warheads by 2020, maximum 100 warheads by 2020.29
29 David Albright, “Future Directions in the DPRK’S Nuclear Weapons Program: Three Scenarios for 2020,” February 2015, http://38north.org/2015/02/dalbright022615/.
c. Chemical and Biological Weapons
According to congressional testimony by Curtis Scaparrotti, Commander of U.S. Forces Korea, North Korea has “one of the world’s largest chemical weapons stockpiles.”30 North Korea is widely reported to possess a large arsenal of chemical weapons, including mustard, phosgene, and sarin gas. Open source reporting estimates that North Korea has approximately 12 facilities where raw chemicals, precursors, and weapon agents are produced and/or stored, as well as six major storage depots for chemical weapons.31 North Korea is estimated to have a chemical weapon production capability up to 4,500 metric tons during a typical year and 12,000 tons during a period of crisis, with a current inventory of 2,500 to 5,000 tons, according to the South Korean Ministry of National Defense.32 A RAND analysis says that “1 ton of the chemical weapon sarin could cause tens of thousands of fatalities” and that if North Korea at some point decides to attack one or more of its neighbors, South Korea and Japan would be “the most likely targets.”33 North Korea is not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) which bans the use and stockpiling of chemical weapons.
30 Statement of Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti Before the Senate Armed Services Committee, April 16, 2015.
31 “North Korea,” NTI, April 2015, http://www.nti.org/country-profiles/north-korea/.
32 Ministry of National Defense, Republic of Korea, 2010 Defense White Paper, December 2010.
33 Bennett, Bruce W. “N.K WMDs Carry Catastrophic Potential,” The RAND Blog, November 19, 2014.
North Korea is suspected of maintaining an ongoing biological weapons production capability. The United States intelligence community continues to judge that North Korea has a biotechnology infrastructure to support such a capability, and “has a munitions production capacity that could be used to weaponize biological agents.”34 South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense estimated in 2012 that the DPRK possesses anthrax and smallpox, among other weapons agents.35
34 Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, 1 January to 31 December 2010, http://www.dni.gov/reports/20110208_report_wmd.pdf.
35 “North Korea,” NTI. April, 2015. http://www.nti.org/country-profiles/north-korea/.
d. North Korea’s Missile Programs 36
North Korea places a high priority on the continued development of its ballistic missile technology.37 Despite international condemnation and prohibitions in UNSC resolutions, North Korea twice in 2012 launched long-range rockets carrying ostensible satellite payloads and in spring and summer 2014 fired approximately 10 shorter range ballistic missiles.38 North Korea has an arsenal of approximately 700 Soviet-designed short-range ballistic missiles, according to unofficial estimates, although the inaccuracy of these antiquated missiles obviates their military effectiveness.39 A U.S. government report said in 2013 that North Korea has deployed small numbers of medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles (unofficial estimate: about 100 and fewer than 30, respectively) that could reach Japan and U.S. bases there, but the intermediate- range missiles have never been flight-tested.40 North Korea has made slow progress toward developing a reliable long-range ballistic missile; the December 2012 launch was the first successful space launch after four consecutive failures in 1998, 2006, 2009, and April 2012.
36 For more information, see CRS Report RS21473, North Korean Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, by Steven A. Hildreth.
37 Stephen Haggard, Daniel Pinkston, Kevin Stahler, and Clint Work, “Interpreting North Korea’s Missile Tests: When Is a Missile Just a Missile?” Witness to Transformation blog, Peterson Institute for International Economics, October 7, 2014, http://blogs.piie.com/nk/?p=13532.
38 North Korea claims that the purpose of these rocket launches is to place a satellite in orbit, and thus it is entitled to develop space launch vehicles as a peaceful use of space. However, long-range ballistic missiles and space-launch vehicles use similar technology, and, because of this overlap, the UNSC acted to prohibit any North Korean use of rocket technology in Resolutions 1718 and 1874.
39 North Korean Security Challenges: A Net Assessment (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2011), pp. 144-146.
40 National Air and Space Intelligence Center, Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat, NASIC-1031-0985-13, Wright- Patterson Air Force Base, OH, June 2013, p. 17, and IISS (2011), pp. 131-135, 141-145.
After its first long-range missile test in 1998, North Korea and the United States held several rounds of talks on a moratorium on long-range missile tests in exchange for the Clinton Administration’s pledge to lift certain economic sanctions. Although Kim Jong-il made promises to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, negotiators could not conclude a deal. These negotiations were abandoned at the start of the Bush Administration, which placed a higher priority on the North Korean nuclear program. In 2006, UNSC Resolution 1718 barred North Korea from conducting missile- related activities. North Korea flouted this resolution with its April 2009 test launch. The UNSC then responded with Resolution 1874, which further increased restrictions on the DPRK ballistic missile program. The 2012 Leap Day Agreement included a moratorium on ballistic missile tests, which North Korea claimed excludes satellite launches.
A U.S. National Intelligence Estimate in 1999 predicted that North Korea would successfully test an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) by 2015, but North Korea’s inconsistent progress has disproved that assessment.41 The author of a 2012 RAND technical report on the North Korean nuclear missile threat asserts that the Unha-3 rocket, which successfully lifted an estimated 100 kg satellite payload into orbit in December 2012, is incapable of carrying a nuclear warhead at inter-continental range.
41 David Wright, “Questions About the Unha-3 Failure,” 38 North, May 2012, http://38north.org/2012/05/ dwright050412; National Intelligence Council, Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States Through 2015 (unclassified summary), September 1999, http://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ Foreign%20Missile%20Developments_1999.pdf.
Official reports indicate that North Korea has also been developing a road-mobile ICBM, dubbed the KN-08, although this missile has never been flight-tested.44 Analysts examining commercial satellite imagery believe that North Korea has conducted multiple tests of KN-08 rocket engines, but the system—should it function successfully—is likely more than a year away from even an initial deployment.45 In a military parade in October 2015, North Korea displayed what appears to be a modified version of the KN-08. An analysis by missile experts outside the U.S. government concluded that the modifications to the missile “will likely delay its entry into service until 2020 or beyond.”46
44 NASIC (2013), pp. 20-22. This report refers to the KN-08 by its Korean name Hwasong-13.
45 Nick Hansen, “North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launching Station: Major Upgrade Program Completed; Facility Operational Again,” 38 North blog, U.S.-Korea Institute, October 1, 2014, http://38north.org/2014/10/sohae100114.
46 John Schilling, Jeffrey Lewis, and David Schmerler, “A New ICBM for North Korea?” 38 North blog, U.S.-Korea Institute, December 22, 2015, http://38north.org/2015/12/icbm122115.
The potential ability of North Korea to miniaturize a nuclear warhead and mate it to a ballistic missile, especially an ICBM, is a key concern of the United States. The DNI stated in April 2013, “North Korea has not yet demonstrated the full range of capabilities necessary for a nuclear armed missile.”47 Yet experts at the Institute for Science and International Security assessed in February 2013 that “North Korea likely has the capability to mount a plutonium-based nuclear warhead on the shorter range 800-mile Nodong missile.”48 Until North Korea tests such a device, the outside world will remain uncertain about North Korean nuclear capabilities.
47 James Clapper, “DNI Statement on North Korea’s Nuclear Capability,” Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Press Release, April 11, 2013.
48 David Albright, “North Korean Miniaturization,” U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS, February 22, 2013, http://38north.org/2013/02/albright021313.
In 2015, North Korea revealed that it has been developing a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) capability, announcing the first test launch (apparently, an ejection test) in May 2015. The second reported SLBM test, in December 2015, was a failure, according to outside analyses of footage released by North Korean media.51 SLBM technology is extremely difficult to develop, and the reports of testing do not indicate that North Korea’s prototype ballistic missile submarines represent an imminent threat.
51 Catherine Dill, “Video Analysis of DPRK SLBM Footage,” Arms Control Wonk blog, January 12, 2016, http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/1200759/video-analysis-of-dprk-slbm-footage.
North Korea’s proliferation of missile technology and expertise is another serious concern for the United States. Pyongyang has sold missile parts and/or technology to several countries, including Egypt, Iran, Libya, Burma, Pakistan, Syria, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.53 Sales of missiles and telemetric information from missile tests have been a key source of hard currency for the Kim regime.
53 Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment—China and Northeast Asia, January 22, 2010 and IISS (2011), pp. 180-181.
North Korea and Iran have cooperated on the technical aspects of missile development since the 1980s, exchanging information and components.54 Reportedly, scientific advisors from Iran’s ballistic missile research centers were seen in North Korea leading up to the December 2012 launch and may have been a factor in its success.55 There are also signs that China may be assisting the North Korean missile program, whether directly or through tacit approval of trade in sensitive materials. Heavy transport vehicles from Chinese entities were apparently sold to North Korea and used to showcase missiles in a military parade in April 2012, prompting a U.N. investigation of sanctions violations.56
54 For more information, see CRS Report R42849, Iran’s Ballistic Missile and Space Launch Programs, by Steven A. Hildreth.
55 Javier Serrat, “North Korea, Iran Highlight Proliferation Risks of Knowledge Transfers,” World Politics Review, December 10, 2012, http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/12554/north-korea-iran-highlight-proliferation-risks- of-knowledge-transfers; John S. Park, “The Leap in North Korea’s Ballistic Missile Program: The Iran Factor,” National Bureau of Asian Research, December 19, 2012, http://www.nbr.org/publications/element.aspx?id=638.
56 Peter Enav, “Experts: North Korea Missile Carrier Likely from China,” Associated Press, April 19, 2012.
e. Regional Missile Defense Systems
The United States, Japan, and (to a lesser extent) South Korea have deployed ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems to protect their territory and military forces from the threat of North Korean attacks. During the 2009 and 2012 North Korean long-range missile tests, U.S. and allied forces reportedly made ready and available a number of BMD systems, in addition to the intelligence gathering capabilities sent into the region. Japan deployed Patriot interceptor batteries around Tokyo and on its southwestern islands, in the event of an errant missile or debris headed toward Japanese territory.57 Aegis BMD ships deployed to the area as well. In response to the heightened tensions in spring 2013, the U.S. military accelerated deployment of a ground-based Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) BMD system to Guam, two years ahead of schedule.
As part of the efforts by the United States and its allies to change China’s strategic thinking about North Korea, the BMD deployments may have an impact. Chinese media made the Patriot deployments a major part of their coverage of the April 2012 launch.58 A subtext to those reports was that North Korea’s actions are feeding military developments in Asia that are not in China’s interests. Many observers, particularly in the United States and Japan, argue that continued North Korean ballistic missile development increases the need to bolster regional BMD capabilities and cooperation. For more information, see CRS Report R43116, Ballistic Missile Defense in the Asia-Pacific Region: Cooperation and Opposition, by Ian E. Rinehart, Steven A. Hildreth, and Susan V. Lawrence.
57 For both 2012 launches, the North Korean rocket trajectory was to have taken it in the upper atmosphere above two small Japanese islands in the Ryukyu island chain.
58 “?????????????? (The DPRK’s Announcement of a Satellite Launch Triggers the World’s Attention),” People’s Daily Online, webpage, April 2012, http://world.people.com.cn/GB/8212/191606/240872/ index.html.
f. North Korea’s Conventional Military Forces
North Korea’s conventional military capabilities have atrophied significantly since 1990, due to antiquated weapons systems and inadequate training, but North Korea could still inflict enormous damage on Seoul with artillery and rocket attacks.59 Security experts agree that, if there were a war on the Korean Peninsula, the United States and South Korea would prevail, but at great cost.60 To compensate for its obsolete traditional forces, in recent years North Korea has sought to improve its asymmetric capabilities, such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), offensive cyber operations, and special operations forces.
59 U.S. Department of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea 2013, Washington, DC, February 2014, p. 8.
60 North Korean Security Challenges: A Net Assessment (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2011), p 47.
North Korea fields one of the largest militaries in the world, estimated at 1.2 million personnel in uniform, with another 600,000 in reserves.61 Defense spending may account for as much as 24% of the DPRK’s national income, on a purchasing power parity basis.62 The North Korean military has deployed approximately 70% of its ground forces and 50% of its air and naval forces within 100 kilometers of the de-militarized zone (DMZ) border, allowing it to rapidly prepare for full- scale conflict with South Korea.63 Analysts estimate that North Korean artillery forces, fortified in thousands of underground facilities, could fire thousands of artillery rounds at metropolitan Seoul in the first hour of a war.64 Most North Korean major combat equipment, however, is old and inferior to the modern systems of the U.S. and ROK militaries. With few exceptions, North Korean tanks, fighter aircraft, armored personnel carriers, and some ships are based on Soviet designs from the 1950s-1970s.
61 The Military Balance 2015 (London, UK: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2015), p. 261.
62 IISS (2011), p. 47.
63 DOD (2014), p. 12.
64 IISS (2011), pp. 52-53.
Although North Korea does not have the resources to modernize its entire military, it has selectively invested in asymmetric capabilities to mitigate the qualitative advantage of U.S. and ROK forces. Open-source intelligence reports indicate that North Korea may have developed an anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) based on Russian technology and UAVs that can deliver a precision strike similar to a cruise missile.66 In the maritime domain, North Korea constructed two new helicopter-carrier corvettes and may be developing a new, larger model of submarine (perhaps to launch ballistic missiles).
66 IISS (2015), p. 227 and DOD (2014), p. 9.
The North Korean military suffers from institutional weaknesses that would mitigate its effectiveness in a major conflict. Because of the totalitarian government system, the North Korean military’s command and control structure is highly centralized and allows no independent actions. North Korean war plans are believed to be highly “scripted” and inflexible in operational and tactical terms, and mid-level officers do not have the training and authority to act on their own initiative.67 The country’s general resource scarcity affects military readiness in several ways: lack of fuel prevents pilots from conducting adequate flight training, logistical shortages could prevent troops from traveling as ordered, lack of spare parts could reduce the availability of equipment, and food shortages will likely reduce the endurance of North Korean forces in combat, among other effects.
67 IISS (2011), p. 54.
g. North Korea’s Cyberattack Capabilities
Security experts and U.S. officials have voiced increasing concern about North Korea’s improving cyberattack capabilities. In March 2013, an attack on the computer systems of several South Korean media and financial institutions disrupted their functioning for days, in one of the most significant cyberattacks in the country’s history; cybersecurity analysts identified North Korean hackers as the culprit.68 The FBI determined that North Korean hackers were responsible for the November 2014 cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, an intrusion that disrupted the company’s communication systems, released employees’ personal information, and leaked yet-to-be released films. (Some reports speculate that the cyberattack on Sony Pictures could have been an attempt to punish the company for its production of a comedy in which American journalists assassinate Kim Jong-un at the instigation of the Central Intelligence Agency.) Perhaps in response to doubts about the attribution of the cyberattack to North Korea, U.S. officials revealed that the National Security Agency had penetrated North Korean computer networks years in advance of the Sony hacking.69
68 Mark Clayton, “In Cyberarms Race, North Korea Emerging As a Power, Not a Pushover,” Christian Science Monitor, October 19, 2013.
69 David Sanger and Martin Fackler, “N.S.A. Breached North Korean Networks Before Sony Attack, Officials Say,” New York Times, January 18, 2015.
5. Recent Developments
a. North Korea’s January 2016 Nuclear Weapon Test
On January 6, North Korea announced that it had successfully tested an “experimental hydrogen bomb,” 2 its fourth nuclear weapon test since 2006. Analysts speculated that Pyongyang may have been motivated largely by a desire to elevate Kim Jong-un’s status ahead of a rare full Congress of the Korean Workers Party (last held in 1980) scheduled for May 2016. Despite skepticism that Pyongyang successfully detonated a full-fledged thermonuclear device (see “North Korean Security Threats” section below), most analysts agree that U.S. and multilateral sanctions have not prevented North Korea from advancing its fledgling nuclear weapons capability.
1 “Joint Vision for the Alliance of the United States of America and the Republic of Korea,” the White House, Office of the Press Secretary, June 16, 2009, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Joint-vision-for-the-alliance-of-the- United-States-of-America-and-the-Republic-of-Korea.
2 Daniel Pinkston, “Did the Kim Regime Exaggerate N.Korea’s Nuclear Capability?” NK News, January 7, 2016.
Governments around the world condemned the nuclear weapon test as a flagrant violation of several United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. The UNSC convened an emergency meeting and began work on a resolution that would impose additional sanctions and punitive measures on North Korea. U.S. officials announced that a U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber flew over South Korea four days after the test to conduct exercises with U.S. and South Korean aircraft.
China’s reaction to the test—a strongly-worded criticism that stressed the need for North Korea to denuclearize—seemed to confirm Beijing’s strained relations with Pyongyang. Under Kim Jong- un, now entering his fifth year in power, China’s role as North Korea’s benefactor and protector appears to have diminished. Yet China still provides critical assistance and trade to the isolated nation and does not appear to have adjusted its fundamental strategic calculus that opposes a collapse of the regime, fearing a flood of refugees and instability on its border. Following the test, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that China could not continue “business as usual” and that its approach to North Korea had not been successful.3 Chinese officials retorted that U.S. policy bore much of the blame for North Korea’s moves toward a nuclear capability. Some analysts pointed out that this testy exchange exposed a stark gap between Beijing and Washington’s approach to North Korea, a development that may have pleased Pyongyang.
3 John Kerry, “Remarks before the Daily Press Briefing,” U.S. Department of State, January 7, 2016.
As China’s ties with North Korea have chilled, South Korea and China have enhanced their strong trade and diplomatic relationship and South Korean President Park Geun-hye has pursued more influence over China’s Korean peninsula policy. A day after the blast, Seoul announced that it had resumed anti-North Korea propaganda broadcasts across the border, a practice that has elicited strong complaints from Pyongyang in the past.
b. North Korea Economic Conditions
Since early 2015, reports about modest economic growth in North Korea have appeared in the media. A series of tentative economic reforms announced in 2014 appear, according to some sources, to have lifted the living standard for a portion of ordinary North Koreans.4 The reforms, which apply market principles in a limited manner to some sectors of North Korean business and agriculture, have created opportunities for economic growth in the impoverished country. In the cities, practices such as allowing managers to set salaries and hire or fire workers are permitted. In the countryside, agricultural reforms allow for farmers to keep a larger portion of their harvest, relaxing the system of fixed rations, and reduced the size of farming collectives to individual households to increase production incentives. Journalists report a bustle of commerce and trade across the border with China, including scores of labor compounds on the Chinese side that employ North Korean workers and large-scale construction taking place on the North Korean side.5 Economists caution that these reforms are modest in scale and are far from irreversible, but they may be enough to lift North Korea’s moribund economy from its low base. Furthermore, the Kim Jong-un regime appears to have allowed the unofficial market economy (mostly small businesses, including street stalls) to continue to function.
4 See “North Korea’s Creeping Economic Reforms Show Signs of Paying Off,” The Guardian, March 5, 2015; “North Korea Dabbles in Reform,” New York Times, January 21, 2015; and “A Quiet Economic Reform is Sweeping North Korea’s Capital,” Associated Press, March 3, 2015.
5 Anna Fifield, “North Korea’s Growing Economy—and America’s Misconceptions About It,” Washington Post, March 13, 2015.
The agricultural reforms may have contributed to unusually strong harvests in 2013 and 2014. However, even as the elite appears to be faring better, the food security situation for many North Koreans remains tenuous. One economist described the situation: “The new normal of North Korean food security seems to be increasing choice for the privileged elite, chronic insecurity for a non-trivial share of the non-elite.”6
6 Marcus Noland, “The Elusive Charm of the 28 June Reforms,” Witness to Transformation blog. January 12, 2016.
6. Nuclear Negotiations
North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has concerned the United States for three decades. In 1986, U.S. intelligence detected the start-up of a plutonium production reactor and reprocessing plant at Yongbyon, which were not subject to international monitoring. In the early 1990s, after agreeing to and then obstructing International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections, North Korea announced its intention to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). According to statements by former Clinton Administration officials, a preemptive military strike on the North’s nuclear facilities was seriously considered as the crisis developed. Discussion of sanctions at the United Nations Security Council and a diplomatic mission from former President Jimmy Carter diffused the tension and eventually led to the U.S.-North Korea 1994 Agreed Framework, under which the United States agreed to arrange for North Korea to receive two light water reactor (LWR) nuclear power plants and heavy fuel oil in exchange for North Korea freezing and eventually dismantling its plutonium program under IAEA supervision. The document also outlined a path toward normalization of diplomatic and economic relations as well as security assurances.
Beset by problems from the start, the Agreed Framework faced multiple reactor construction and funding delays. Still, the fundamentals of the agreement were implemented: North Korea froze its plutonium program, heavy fuel oil was delivered to the North Koreans, and LWR construction commenced. However, North Korea had not complied with commitments to declare all nuclear facilities to the IAEA and put them under safeguards. In 2002, the George W. Bush Administration confronted North Korea about a suspected uranium enrichment program,8 which the North Koreans then denied publicly. With these new concerns, heavy fuel oil shipments were halted, and construction of the LWRs—well behind schedule—was suspended. North Korea then expelled IAEA inspectors from the Yongbyon site, announced its withdrawal from the NPT, and restarted its reactor and reprocessing facility after an eight year freeze.
8 Material for nuclear weapons can be made from reprocessing plutonium or enriching uranium. The uranium enrichment program provided North Korea with a second pathway for creating nuclear bomb material while its plutonium production facilities were frozen.
a. Six-Party Talks
Under the George W. Bush Administration, negotiations to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue expanded to include China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia. With China playing host, six rounds of the “Six-Party Talks” from 2003-2008 yielded occasional progress, but ultimately failed to resolve the fundamental issue of North Korean nuclear arms. The most promising breakthrough occurred in 2005, with the issuance of a Joint Statement in which North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons programs in exchange for aid, a U.S. security guarantee, and talks over normalization of relations with the United States. Despite the promise of the statement, the process eventually broke down due to complications over U.S. Treasury Department’s freezing of North Korean assets in a bank in Macau and then degenerated further with North Korea’s test of a nuclear device in October 2006.9
9 For more details on problems with implementation and verification, see CRS Report RL33590, North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Development and Diplomacy, by Larry A. Niksch.
In February 2007, Six-Party Talks negotiators announced an agreement that would provide economic and diplomatic benefits to North Korea in exchange for a freeze and disablement of Pyongyang’s nuclear facilities. This was followed by an October 2007 agreement that more specifically laid out the implementation plans, including the disablement of the Yongbyon facilities, a North Korean declaration of its nuclear programs, delivery of heavy fuel oil, and a U.S. promise to lift economic sanctions on North Korea and remove North Korea from the U.S. designation under the Trading with the Enemy Act (TWEA) and list of state sponsors of terrorism. The plutonium program was again frozen and placed under international monitoring with the United States providing assistance for disabling of key nuclear facilities. Under the leadership of Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill, the Bush Administration pushed ahead on the deal. It removed the TWEA designation in June 2008 after North Korea submitted a declaration of its plutonium program. After terms of a verification protocol were verbally agreed upon in October 2008, the United States removed North Korea from the terrorism list.10 However, disputes over the specifics of the verification protocol between Washington and Pyongyang stalled the process again. North Korea did continue to disable portions of its Yongbyon facility through April 2009, when it expelled international inspectors following a ballistic missile test and subsequent UNSC sanctions. In May 2009, North Korea tested a second nuclear device.
Multilateral negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear program have not been held since December 2008. Observers note that Pyongyang’s continued belligerent actions, its vituperative rhetoric, its claim to be a nuclear weapons power, and most importantly its failure to fulfill obligations undertaken in previous agreements have halted efforts to restart the Six-Party Talks.
7. Economic Engagement with North Korea
The implementation of the agreements reached in the Six-Party Talks (6PT) in February and October 2007 came to a halt in late 2008 due to confrontation between North Korea (DPRK) on one part and the United States, Japan, and South Korea (ROK) on the other over the verification of the North’s detailed declaration of its nuclear program. Since then, the North Korea nuclear issue has become even more difficult to resolve because of North Korea’s development of a uranium enrichment capability and its second and third nuclear tests in May 2009 and February 2013. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has strengthened economic sanctions against North Korea in response to the repeated nuclear tests. However, this has not resulted in the impoverishment of North Korea. In fact, since its first nuclear test in 2006, international trade has been growing and economic conditions appear to have improved steadily. North Korea’s trade exceeded $7.3 billion in 2013, a 7.8 percent increase from the previous year and the highest since 1990 according to the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA). Under the UN sanctions that allow most of the non- military economic transactions, China, in particular, has expanded economic exchanges with the North. In recent years, Russia has become more actively engaged with it. Seoul has not only maintained a certain level of economic interactions with it, but has also become more eager to expand them, while the United States and Japan have continued to impose strong unilateral sanctions against the North.
a. Kim Jong-Un’s Leadership and International Isolation
In his four years as supreme leader, Kim Jong-un appears to have consolidated his leadership and demonstrated a brutal hand in leading North Korea. He has carried out a series of purges of senior-level officials, including the execution of Jang Song-taek, his uncle by marriage, in 2013. In May 2015, Defense Minister Hyon Yong-chol was reportedly executed. South Korean intelligence sources say that about half of the top 200 military and bureaucratic officials have been replaced since Kim took power.7 Analysts differ over whether this means Kim has further cemented his hold on power or whether this could portend insecurity and potential instability within the regime.
Kim has yet to meet with a foreign head-of-state and has not traveled overseas since assuming power. Although he was expected to visit Moscow in May 2015 to attend a ceremony celebrating the 70th anniversary of Russia’s defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, Kim cancelled at the last minute. Kim similarly rebuffed an invitation from Beijing to attend China’s World War II commemoration in September 2015.
Compared to the pattern over the previous two decades, North Korea-China relations have been unusually poor since 2013. This distance from Beijing may have spurred Pyongyang to expand its relations with Russia—sending scores of officials to Moscow, negotiating deals to improve North Korea’s electric grid in exchange for North Korean natural resources, and signing agreements for infrastructure projects—but some observers doubt that many of these initiatives will be realized. Although better relations with Moscow may serve some of Pyongyang’s interests, including another potential protector on the UNSC, Russia is unable to provide the economic ballast that China has traditionally given to North Korea.
7 “North Korea Executes Minister by Anti-aircraft Fire, Says Seoul,” Financial Times, May 13, 2015.
b. The US Disengagement
Since the Korean War, the United States has imposed strong economic sanctions against the DPRK and has been reluctant to ease them and normalize relations. Economic engagement in terms of trade and investment has remained very low. The sanctions have hindered Pyongyang from obtaining investment and aid from other countries and international organizations, such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Not surprisingly, Pyongyang has urged Washington to end the sanctions and normalize relations with Pyongyang. Between 1995 and 2008, the United States provided North Korea with over $1.2 billion in assistance, of which about 60% paid for food aid and about 40% for energy assistance. U.S. aid ended in early 2009 due to disagreements with Pyongyang over monitoring and access. 104.
104 For more, see CRS Report R40095, Foreign Assistance to North Korea, by Mark E. Manyin and Mary Beth D. Nikitin.
In the context of continuing hostile relations with Washington, Pyongyang has proceeded with nuclear and missile development. Washington’s unwillingness to normalize relations is understandable because diplomatic normalization with Pyongyang would likely reduce US influence in East Asia, particularly over Japan and South Korea. Normalization would lead to the DPRK’s normalization with Japan and South Korea. That would reduce the importance of their military alliance with the United States. Normalization would also lead to a new phase of economic development in Northeast Asia and consequently decrease the economic importance of the United States to its two allies. For the United States, hostile relations with the DPRK remain useful in maintaining US influence over Japan and South Korea in dealing with the growing power of China. Therefore, Washington is likely to remain reluctant to ease economic sanctions against Pyongyang and to expand economic engagement.
c. Japan’s Disengagement
Japan has shown more willingness than the United States to normalize relations with North Korea as can be seen from its initiation of normalization talks in 1991 and the Koizumi visits to Pyongyang in 2002 and 2004. However, deterioration of the nuclear and missile issues as well as the issue of the North’s abduction of Japanese citizens have reduced domestic support for normalization in Japan.
There have not been many Japanese leaders who support improvement in Japan’s relations with North Korea if doing so hurts its relations with the United States, which is widely seen in Japan as the most important country for Japan. This recognition has become even stronger in recent years as tension has risen between Japan and China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Moreover, the politically dominant conservatives in Japan have been eager to ease the constitutional constraints on Japan’s military activities to deal with North Korea and China. Finally, public support for diplomatic normalization with North Korea has been very limited because of strong anti–North Korea sentiment, resulting from North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens and its problematic handling of the issue after admission of this during the first bilateral summit meeting in September 2002 as well as its nuclear and missile development.
After the first nuclear test in 2006, Tokyo unilaterally imposed economic sanctions against Pyongyang, including a trade embargo, which was significant because Japan had long been a major trade partner for North Korea. In May 2014, Tokyo agreed with Pyongyang to fully lift unilateral sanctions if Pyongyang conducts special investigations into the abduction and other issues involving Japanese citizens and fully resolves them. In July 2014, Tokyo eased its ban on travel and port calls and restriction on remittances in response to Pyongyang’s establishment of a special investigation team.
However, it is highly unclear how much progress will be made from now on. In any case, given the continuing and even growing support for alliance with the US, Japan is unlikely to actively pursue diplomatic normalization with North Korea.
d. Decline in South Korea’s Engagement
North Korea’s renewed nuclear and missile development in response to the hardline policy of the Bush administration led to the end of the progressive talks with South Korea at that time, which had turned South Korea into the second biggest trade partner for the North and a leading provider of economic aid along with China. Besides this, the killing of a South Korean woman during her participation in the Mount Kumgang tour in July 2008 led to suspension of the tour, which had been profitable for North Korea. Subsequently, the sinking of a South Korean corvette, Cheonan, during the ROK-US joint maritime exercise near the Northern Limit Line (NLL) in the Yellow Sea in March 2010 resulted in Seoul’s imposition of economic sanctions against Pyongyang in May 2010 (5.24 sanctions), leaving the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) as virtually the only major point of South Korea’s economic engagement with the North.
Despite the scale-down in economic engagement since 2008, South Korea has a greater potential to expand economic engagement than the United States and Japan. Compared to those two countries, there has been stronger support among the elite and the general public in South Korea for improving relations with the North. Just like the Japanese, many South Koreans look upon the United States as the most important country both militarily and economically. Yet, South Korea does not have territorial disputes with China as serious as Japan’s. Nor does it face such constitutional constraints on military activities that Japan faces.
Furthermore, for South Korea, the importance of improving economic relations with North Korea is stronger than for Japan because of its greater economic dependence on international trade. South Korea can expect more economic benefit from expanding economic ties with the North and with China, Russia, and other Eurasian countries through the North. Thus, among the three countries that have confronted North Korea, South Korea has the greatest possibility to expand economic engagement. In fact, there have been changes in that direction under the current administration, in the context of progress in the economic engagement of China and Russia, both of which seek economic benefit from expanding their economic relations with the North and from improvement in inter-Korea economic relations.
e. China’s Engagement
Since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, China has been economically supporting North Korea, preventing its collapse. China’s aid to North Korea is believed to amount to $20 million per year, which includes 100,000 tons of food and 500,000 tons of oil.1 China is not just an aid provider but is also the biggest trade partner for North Korea, accounting for as much as 89.1 percent of the North’s trade when inter- Korea trade is excluded from the calculation. China’s economic engagement goes beyond just preventing the North Korean regime from collapsing. China has also seen North Korea as an important source of natural resources, as a market, and as a logistics hub, particularly for its underdeveloped northeastern provinces.
1. Nagoshi Kenr?, “Kitachousen to Roshia ‘ky?sekkin’ no fukai wake The underlying reason behind the rapid improvement in North Korea-Russia relations,” Foresight, 23 June 2014, accessed 15 September 2014, http://www .fsight.jp/27498.
For China, whose land territory is very close to the Sea of Japan but does not face it, Rajin can be a very important logistics hub for promoting economic development of the provinces, linking them not only to southern parts of China but also to South Korea, Japan, and other countries.
North Korea’s rocket launches in 2012 and the third nuclear test in 2013 soured its relations with China and apparently reduced Beijing’s eagerness to assist North Korea’s economic development, as can be seen from the suspension of oil exports to North Korea since January 2013 that was indicated in China’s official trade statistics.6 However, bilateral trade has continued to expand, with North Korea’s export of natural resources and China’s export of manufactured goods increasing, largely through the border cities of Sinuiju and Rason. Bilateral trade in 2013 reached $654.7 billion, 8.9 percent higher than in 2012.
6. There have been views that question the actual suspension, though. “DPRK Oil Imports from China in 2014 (UPDATED),” North Korean Economy Watch, 23 August 2014, accessed 15 September 2014, http://www .nkeconwatch.com/category/international-trade/.
f. Russia’s Engagement
Russia’s economic engagement with the DPRK has been much smaller than China’s. As of 2013, Russia was North Korea’s third biggest trade partner, with the bilateral trade standing at approximately $104.2 million. However, economic engagement has become more active in recent years, even after the third nuclear test. Russia’s exports to North Korea increased by 48.6 percent in 2013 from the previous year, and further expansion seems likely. The Russian government has been pushing for strengthening its economic ties with Northeast Asian countries to stimulate the economy of its underdeveloped Far Eastern region and thereby revitalize the national economy.10 Moscow has been eager to expand trade with countries in the region and turn Russia into a major trade route between Northeast Asia and Europe.11 As can be seen from the establishment of the Ministry for Development of the Russian Far East in May 2012, this has been more conspicuous particularly after the onset of the global financial crisis in 2007 that resulted in a decline in Russian exports of natural resources to Europe, and after the start of large-scale production of shale gas particularly by the United States, which has weakened Russia’s price-setting power vis-à-vis the present and prospective importers of its gas.
10. Alexander Fedorovskiy, “Russia’s Policy Toward North Korea,” Russian Analytical Digest, no. 132 (11 July 2013): 5–6.
11. Ole Jakob Skåtun, “Russian Vice-Premier Visits Pyongyang to Discuss Economic Ties,” NK News, 28 April 2014, accessed 17 September 2014, http://www.nknews.org/2014/04/russian-vice-premier-heads-to -pyongyang-to-discuss-economic-ties/.
Russia has already discussed various projects with the two Koreas and has gained their support, including the connection of Russian railways, gas pipelines, and power grids to South Korea’s through North Korea. All three parties can benefit from these projects. Russian President Medvedev agreed to promote the gas pipelines project in September 2008. He made a similar agreement with General Secretary Kim Jong Il in August 2011 during Kim’s first visit to Russia since 2002, while also agreeing to resolve the issue of North Korea’s outstanding debt to Russia. Although these trilateral projects have not made much progress due to the volatile relations between the two Koreas, Russia has not lost its willingness to push them forward even after North Korea’s third nuclear test. Also, it has explored other ways to profit from its economic engagement with North Korea.
To facilitate Russian investment, North Korea agreed to simplify procedures for Russians to obtain and use multiple-entry visas for business purposes and to allow them to use the Internet and mobile phones in North Korea.20 On the series of agreements reached at the June meeting, Alexander Galushka, the Russian Far East Development Minister, told the media that “the North Korean Government has allowed this agreement exclusively for Russian entrepreneurs and that overseas investors, including those from China, have not enjoyed such benefits to date.”21
20. “North Korea-Russia.”
Besides these agreements, in a manner similar to China, Russia has attempted to use Rajin as its logistics hub. In fact, in 2008 Russia and North Korea started renovating of the Rajin port and upgrading the fifty-four-kilometer railway between Rajin and Khasan (in Russia), which was originally agreed in 2001. In December 2011 Pyongyang enacted an international railroad cargo law, the first of its kind, apparently in preparation for its transactions with Russia and China.23
23. “International Railroad Cargo Law Passed,” IFES, November 8, 2013, accessed 17 September 2014, http://ifes.kyungnam.ac.kr/eng/FRM/FRM _0101V.aspx?code=FRM131108_0001.
Russia and North Korea held an official opening ceremony in September 2013 upon completion of renovation of the railway. The new multipurpose facility at the terminal in the Rajin port has a cargo traffic capacity of about five million tons a year and the capacity for coal magnetic cleaning and coal separating.24 For political and economic reasons, completion of trilateral train connections between Russia and South Korea via North Korea would take many years. For the time being, Russia can use the Rajin port as a gateway to other counties, particularly China, and possibly South Korea and Japan, supplementary to the existing ports in the Russian Far East such as Vladivostok, which face congestion.25 In fact, Russia has already begun its use of the Rajin port, sending out its first shipment of a total of 9,000 metric tons of coal at the end of March 2014 to the final destinations of Shanghai, Lianyungang, and Guangzhou in China via the port.26
24. “North Korea Launches Russian-Korean Terminal in Rason Economic Zone,” ITAR-TASS, 18 July 2013, accessed 17 September 2014, http:// en.itar-tass.com/economy/741383.
25. Medetsky, “First Russian Coal.”
Considering possible further decline in Russia’s gas and other exports to Europe due to its confrontation with the European Union and the United States over its annexation of Crimea and its involvement in the conflict in Ukraine, Russia may well make greater efforts to expand its economic engagement with North Korea in order to expand its exports, to profit from its investment in North Korea, and to use North Korea as a logistics hub.
8. The North Korea Problem and China
a. Interests, Debates, and Roadmaps
China sees the Korean Peninsula as its strategic frontier. During China’s history, some of the largest-scale military operations have occurred on the Korean Peninsula. The latest campaign was the Korean War in the 1950s, through which China escaped from the possibility of control by the Soviet Union and the United States, and then leaped to the status of a major Asia-Pacific power.1 Korean affairs continue to be important to China’s national interests.2 The challenge is to discern the “core” interests within China’s publicly-stated policy positions related to Korea.
1. Shen Zhihua, Mao Zedong, Stalin and the Korean War (Guangzhou: Guangdong People’s Press, 2003), 116.
2. Li Xiguang, “DPRK is China’s first level core interest” in Korean, Gongshiwang, accessed 20 July 2014, http://www.21ccom.net/articles/qqsw/ zlwj/article _2010120125541.html.
b. China’s Role
U.S. policy to pressure North Korea depends heavily on China’s influence. In addition to being North Korea’s largest trading partner by far—accounting for about 70% of North Korea’s total trade—China also provides food and energy aid that is an essential lifeline for the regime in Pyongyang. China’s overriding priority appears to be to prevent the collapse of North Korea. Analysts assess that Beijing fears the destabilizing effects of a humanitarian crisis, significant refugee flows over its borders, and the uncertainty of how other nations, particularly the United States, would assert themselves on the peninsula in the event of a power vacuum. Beijing is supporting joint industrial projects between China’s northeastern provinces and North Korea’s northern border region. Some Chinese leaders also may see strategic value in having North Korea as a “buffer” between China and democratic, U.S.-allied South Korea.
However, since 2010 an increasing number of Chinese academics have called for a reappraisal of China’s friendly ties with North Korea, citing the material and reputational costs to China of maintaining such ties. The rhetorical emphasis Chinese leaders now place on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula—reportedly even in meetings with North Korean officials—may suggest that Beijing’s patience could be waning. In what is viewed by many observers as a diplomatic snub, Chinese President Xi Jinping has had several summits with South Korean President Park Geun-hye but has yet to meet with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Despite this apparent cooling in relations, Beijing remains an obstacle to many U.S. policy goals. Imposing harsher punishments on North Korea in international fora, such as the United Nations, is hindered by China’s seat on the UNSC. However, Chinese trade with and aid to North Korea is presumed to be a fraction of what it might be if Beijing decided to fully support Kim Jong-un. This assumption is a key factor driving the U.S. and South Korean approach, which seeks to avoid pushing China to a place where it feels compelled to provide more diplomatic and economic assistance to North Korea.
c. National Interests of China
The most significant characteristic of international relations on the Korean Peninsula is that the great powers pass the resolutions and the weak powers make the decisions.3 The stability of relations among great powers brings the stability of the Korean Peninsula. From a structural point of view, the strategic interactions between China and the United States determine China’s diplomatic policies toward the two Koreas, and those policies both reflect and impact Sino-US relations.4 If Sino-US relations are relatively stable, relevant nations can basically ensure smooth North Korea nuclear crisis management. In Northeast Asia, if there is to be a soft landing for any crisis in the Korean Peninsula, great power coordination or compromise must be achieved.5
3. Bai Jie, Notes of Observing the Korean Peninsula (World Knowledge Press: Beijing, 2013), 261.
4. Wang Yisheng, The Management of the Korean Peninsula Conflicts (Military Science Press: Beijing, 2011), 52.
5. Bai Jie, Notes of Observing, 264.
The main diplomatic strategies of the incumbent Chinese government can be summarized as “the big country is a valve key, the periphery is paramount, the developing countries are ground work, and multilateralism is an important stage.”6 The reality and history of the Korean Peninsula is the best example that can reflect China’s diplomatic strategies. China’s Korean Peninsula policy has shown a willingness to take proactive measures.7 The process of solving the Korea problem has become a testing ground and a cornerstone for China to practice the new type of relationship between major countries.
6. Zheng Jiyong, “China’s Perspectives and Strategies towards the Korean Peninsula Peace Regime,” paper presented at the meeting on the Project for Korean Foreign Affairs, Shanghai, China, 5 December 2013.
7. Institute for Far Eastern Studies, The Korean Peninsula: 2013 Evaluation and 2014 Prospects (Seoul: Institute for Far Eastern Studies, Kyungnam University, 2013), 75–92.
Peace, stability, and denuclearization have always defined China’s national interests on the Korean Peninsula. More concretely, we can say that actions that meet those three principles coincide with China’s national interests, while opposite actions threaten China’s interests.
On the North Korea nuclear crisis, China provides a clear and firm viewpoint in opposition to a nuclear DPRK. Firstly, the testing and development of nuclear weapons is threatening to China’s national security. China does not want the number of its neighbors that possess nuclear weapons to increase. No country wants its neighbors to own nuclear weapons, no matter if it is a friend or an adversary, and this is the most basic principle of realism. At the same time, if it is true that “North Korea wants to sell its mature nuclear technologies to gain economic support,”8 this nuclear proliferation will threaten China’s security. In addition, North Korea’s political instability can cause loss of control of nuclear technology or materials.
8. Hong Nack Kim,”China’s Policy toward North Korea under the Xi Jinping Leadership,” North Korean Review 9, no. 2 (2013): 83–98.
Secondly, North Korea’s nuclear tests are greatly harmful to China’s environmental safety. China has concerns about nuclear safety. The hazard of the Chernobyl accident is well known, and the leakage of the Japanese Fukushima nuclear plant has still not been controlled effectively. Since great powers such as the Soviet Union and Japan could not handle nuclear disasters effectively, it would be an environmental disaster for China if those nuclear problems occur in a relatively less developed country like North Korea. Earthquakes in China’s frontier regions such as Yanbian were reported after the nuclear tests in 2009 and 2013, along with perceived tremors. The residents are not only afraid of the earthquakes, but also the health effects of nuclear radiation. Similarly, the Changbai (Paektu) Mountain is a dormant volcano, and nuclear tests may induce volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. If the Changbai Mountain were to erupt, a large area of China would suffer.
Furthermore, if there is a conflict between North Korea and the ROK, as the largest neighbor, China will not and cannot stay out. It is China’s geopolitical fate to be involved in Korean Peninsula affairs. The basic principles of China’s policies toward the Korean Peninsula, such as a peace, stability, and denuclearization, can be understood logically. Therefore, China opposes the right of any party to threaten others, for those actions will result in an unstable situation. Although the Cold War ended long ago, the Cold War structure on the Korean Peninsula still remains, determined by geopolitics. 10
10. Zheng Jiyong, “The ‘Conflict-Reconciliation’ Cycle on the Korean Peninsula: A Chinese Perspective,” Korean Journal of Defense Analysis 24, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 123–39.
Progress on peace on the Korean Peninsula runs in parallel with North Korea’s integration into the international community. China hopes the Korean Peninsula can eventually achieve reunification under the premise of peace. China has confidence that even after the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula, and even with the continued presence of US troops in the ROK, a unified Korean Peninsula will still be able to maintain friendly relations with China, just as has happened through history. From a practical point of view, US troops are also stationed in Japan, which makes China uneasy, but Japan has still maintained friendly relations with China for a long time.
d. A China-Style Logic for Problem Solving and a Roadmap
Although there are debates within China on how to deal with the Korean Peninsula issue, peace, stability, and denuclearization are the three basic principles that encompass China’s national interests. China believes that approaches undertaken thus far by the United States cannot resolve the Korean Peninsula crisis.
China should become a supplier of public goods in Northeast Asia by creating and providing norms for regional peace and stability.20 On security, China’s goal is for cooperative security and reasonable safety. Economically, China should focus on economic integration in Northeast Asia. North Korea can restore its confidence and find new economic growth with the help of Japan and South Korea based on the principle of economic integration.
20. Oliver Stuenkel, “Who Will Make the Rules in Tomorrow’s World?” Post Western World, 24 November 2012, http://www.postwesternworld.com /2012/11/24/who-will-makes-the-rules-in-tomorrows-world/.
China has insisted on an economic, cultural, and military three-pronged strategy. For a long time, the United States promoted a Northeast Asia strategy based on the US-ROK alliance and the US-Japan alliance, while attempting to ensure absolute security through military power. But this kind of security-oriented strategic logic has reached a dead end.21 China should promote a new path. At present, there is rapid growth in economic cooperation between China and South Korea. South Korea is proposing to deepen cultural exchanges with China to enhance mutual political trust. Sino-ROK security cooperation has also been showing a rapid development momentum.22
21. Zheng Jiyong, “Chinese Perspective on Regional Implications of the NPT,” in Developing A Region: Sketching A Path Towards Harmony ( Jeju, Korea: Friedrich Naumann Stiftung and Jeju Peace Institute, 2010), 154–63.
22. Zheng Jiyong, “China’s Perspectives and Strategies towards the Korean Peninsula Peace regime,” paper presented at the meeting for the Project for Korea Foreign Affairs, Shanghai, 5 December 2013.
So, China’s fundamental principles cannot be compromised. These issues can be listed as follows: First, North Korea has nuclear weapons, but China’s determination to denuclearize North Korea is unchangeable. North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons will not only threaten China’s national security, but also be a challenge to regional and international order, especially to China’s authority, and may lead to a regional nuclear arms race. Second, North Korea has the right to choose its own road, which must be respected. So far, the national condition of Pyongyang is caused by its form of government. The form of the government should not be changed by external force; it can only be improved during the process of development instead of being overturned. Third, provocative words and deeds are not helpful. Continuing to stir up trouble will be a threat not only to the Korean Peninsula, but also to its surrounding countries. The Korean Peninsula is the gateway to China.
In China’s view, a roadmap to peace should include four processes: the construction of confidence and trust, integration of North Korea into international society, denuclearization of North Korea, and achieving stability and peace.27 First of all, the minimum goal is to develop the confidence that North Korea can achieve stability and peace. Without other countries’ interference and with support from the outside, North Korea and South Korea should try their best to trust each other. Second, the mid-term goal is to reach an agreement on the future of the Korean Peninsula, which means deciding under what conditions all sides can coexist and promote common development. A country outside the international society cannot drive its regional development. So, during this period, to achieve the goal that North Korea can be integrated into the region and into the international society, relevant countries can play a role to support and supervise its denuclearization and political and national development. Finally, South Korea and North Korea can achieve unification via pragmatic means and bilateral agreements.
27. Zheng, “The ‘Conflict-Reconciliation’ Cycle.”
9. Explaining Japan’s North Korea Policy
Japan’s Asia policy during the Cold War period was largely shaped by the regional Cold War framework, most importantly the alliance with the United States. Japan was to support the Republic of Korea (South Korea) on the divided Korean Peninsula. However, Japan’s physical and social proximity to Asia required it to attempt to carve out some diplomatic space in its dealings with communist Asia.1 Japan’s ambivalent approach toward North Korea has persisted into the post–Cold War period.
Japan’s policy toward North Korea has also been a reverse image of Japan’s relations with South Korea. Having difficulties with South Korea’s politicization of the colonial history, Japan has used its limited relations with North Korea not to the extent of “balancing” its relations with South Korea, but reminding the South Koreans of its displeasure. The North-South reconciliation during two successive South Korea governments (1999–2009) opened a possibility for Japan to develop a closer relationship with both, but the increasing security concerns about the North have dissuaded Japan from a rapid reconciliation.
1. Yoshihide Soeya in detail documented Japan’s efforts to nourish economic ties with the People’s Republic of China through the 1950s and 1960s in Japan’s Economic Diplomacy with China, 1945–1978 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). For general analysis of Japan’s diplomatic divergence from the United States, also see: Akitoshi Miyashita and Yoichiro Sato, eds., Japanese Foreign Policy in Asia and the Pacific: Domestic Interests, American Pressure, and Regional Integration (New York: Palgrave, 2001).
Social linkages with North Korea further complicate Japan’s foreign policy toward North Korea. The issues of Japanese citizens trapped in North Korea (spouses of the repatriated Koreans and the abductees) and North Korea hosting the Japanese Red Army terrorists continue to be both a reason for and an obstacle to bilateral communication.
The geographical proximity and social linkage have not made Japan a key player in the regional diplomacy over North Korea. Japan’s relevance is viewed as peripheral at best 2 and distractive at worst 3 in the multilateral diplomacy over the nuclear crisis. However, in the long-term regional geopolitical context, Japan and its policy deriving from the ongoing North Korea crisis have been cast in a more important regard.4 Most importantly, the ongoing crises have shaped the course of the US-Japan alliance review.5
2. Linus Hagstrom and Marie Soderberg, eds., North Korea Policy: Japan and the Great Powers (London: Routledge, 2006).
3. Christopher W. Hughes, “The Political Economy of Japanese Sanctions towards North Korea: Domestic Coalitions and International Systemic Pressure,” Pacific Affairs 79, no. 3 (Fall 2006): 455–81.
4. David Fouse, “Japan’s Post-Cold War North Korea Policy: Hedging toward Autonomy?” in Japan in a Dynamic Asia: Coping with the New Security Challenges, eds. Yoichiro Sato and Satu Limaye (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2006), 135–55.
5. Yuki Tatsumi, ed., North Korea: Challenge for the U.S.-Japan Alliance (Washington, DC: Stimson Center, 2011). A more cynical view of this aspect of the North Korean crisis is seen in Christopher W. Hughes, “‘Super-Sizing’ the DPRK Threats: Japan’s Evolving Military Posture and North Korea,” Asian Survey 49, no. 2 (March/April 2009): 291–311.
When a war broke out between the North and the South Korean regimes in June 1950, the disarmed Japan did not become an active and direct participant (with some exceptions).6 The US military bases throughout Japan quickly became the launching pads of the US war operations, and this emergency arrangement was endorsed in a new mutual security treaty in 1951. Japan and South Korea normalized their relations in 1965, while Japan did not seek official diplomatic relations with North Korea.
6. Participation of the former Japanese naval officers in minesweeping opera- tions during the Korean War was a major exception this general statement. Hidetaka Suzuki, “Chosen kaiiki ni shutsugeki shita nihon tokubetsu soukaitai—sono hikari to kage The Special Japanese Minesweeping Force Deployed to Korean Waters—Its Glory and Shadow,” unpublished paper, n.d., accessed 1 February 2014, http://www.mod.go.jp/msdf/mf/history /img/004.pdf.
b. The US Alliance as a Factor
Although Japan, as an ally of the United States, mostly toes the latter’s regional security policy line, occasional divergences are common. Japan’s geographical proximity to and increasing economic interdependence with China have worked in both advocating moderation in US regional security policy and urging stronger US commitment to regional security. As US-China relations have had ups and downs, Japan’s stance toward China has not been in perfect synchronization with the United States, and the resulting divergence has affected Japan’s policy toward North Korea as well.
Japan has been ambivalent about China’s diplomatic role toward North Korea. At the outset of the nuclear crisis in the early 1990s, US bilateral dealing with North Korea left little room for inputs by Japan. Japan grudgingly stayed behind US President Bill Clinton’s bilateral negotiation (through his special envoy former president Jimmy Carter), after lodging its opposition to military actions against North Korea at the time.9 Japan was not satisfied with two aspects of the outcome of the bilateral negotiation—assigning to Japan a large part of the light-water reactors construction in North Korea and not addressing North Korea’s ballistic missiles whose range had already covered the western half of Japan at the time.10
9. Hidekazu Sakai, “Continuity and Discontinuity of Japanese Foreign Policy toward North Korea: Freezing the Korean Energy Development Organization (KEDO) in 1998,” in Miyashita and Sato, Japanese Foreign Policy, 53–74.
10. Yoichiro Sato, “US North Korea Policy: The ‘Japan factor'” in Hagstrom and Soderberg, North Korea Policy, 82.
c. Japanese Approach to the Problem
Japan’s policy toward North Korea is first and foremost conducted within the framework of the US-Japan alliance, which focuses on rolling back North Korea’s nuclear weapons development. However, a containment approach exclusively utilizing negative inducements would meet opposition from China. The US return to a mixed approach of positive and negative inducements during the second Bush administration ironically raised China’s relative weight in regional diplomacy, thereby placing Japan in a competition against China for US attention.
South Korea’s oscillations between hard and soft approaches toward the North have interacted with the periodic rises of anti-Japanese stances in its domestic politics. Japan has coped with these complex political dynamics by prioritizing its relations with the South over the North, while using the North as a reminder against the South’s excessive anti-Japanese tilt.
The domestic politics of Japan have not only been responsible for Japan’s hardline policy against North Korea in relation to the abduction issue, but also for its soft policy. Anticipated payment of wartime reparations to North Korea has been linked with domestic pork-barreling. After 2004, however, both the abduction issue and the reparations issue on the normalization agenda have been subordinated to the nuclear and missile issues. As of late 2014, the fate of the ongoing bilateral consultations on the abduction issue and normalization is as yet unknown.
Furthermore, emerging strategic thinking in Japan’s North Korea policy is evident in the way its crisis responses have been built into the long-term strategy of enhancing the US-Japan alliance. The North Korean crisis has served as a driver of Japan’s “normalization” and pursuit of collective defense with the United States.35
35. Japan first worked on limited bilateral military cooperation outside Japan’s territorial defense through sunset legislation and then worked on amending the permanent laws governing Japan’s territorial defense and the role of the Self Defense Forces in cooperation with the US forces. For progress of collective defense between Japan and the United States and the associated legal discussions during the last two decades, see Yoichiro Sato, “Three Norms of Collective Defense and Japan’s Overseas Troop Dispatches,” in Norms, Interests, and Power in Japanese Foreign Policy, eds. Yoichiro Sato and Keiko Hirata (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 93–108; Clint Richards, “Japan: De Facto Approval of Collective Self-Defense,” Diplomat, 16 July 2014, accessed 16 September 2014, http://thediplomat.com/2014/07 /japan-de-facto-approval-of-collective-self-defense/.
10.The North Korea Problem from South Korea’s Perspective
What recently embarrasses South Korea most is that as North Korea’s dependence on China gets bigger, its dependence on South Korea gets smaller. North Korea’s increasing dependence on China is in part a natural result of China’s rise in East Asia,1 but it is also because North Korea is deliberately relying less on South Korea. This situation must mean that while China’s influence on North Korea is growing, South Korea’s influence is getting weaker. Asymmetric interdependence can be the origin of power2. It implies that as North Korea’s sensitivity and vulnerability to China are getting larger, so is China’s influence on North Korea.
1. For the influence of China’s rise on the Korean Peninsula in general, see Scott Snyder, China’s Rise and the Two Koreas: Politics, Economics, Security (Boulder: Lynne-Rienner Publishers, 2009).
2. Robert O. Keohane and Joseph S. Nye Jr., Power and Interdependence: World Politics in Transition (Boston: Little Brown, 1977).
Of course, the growing Chinese influence but weakening South Korean influence on North Korea has not just occurred in the economic area. Chinese influence is also much stronger in diplomatic and military areas.5 If South Korea wants to have as much control over affairs on the Korean Peninsula in an era of a changing balance of power as it had for the last two decades since the early 1990s, South Korea itself should make every effort to enlarge its influence over North Korea. The security environment favorable to South Korea around the Korean Peninsula mainly resulted from the US preponderance of power in East Asia after the end of the Cold War, but the balance of power in the region appears to be changing again and has become less advantageous for South Korea.6 South Korea cannot safeguard its own national interests without increasing its influence on North Korea.
5. Office of the Secretary of Defense, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2013, Annual Report to Congress (2013). See also Roger Cliff, Mark Burles, Michael S. Chase, Derek Eaton, Kevin L. Pollpeter, Entering the Dragon’s Lair: Chinese Antiaccess Strategies and Their Implications for the United States (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2007).
6. Jihwan Hwang, “The Two Koreas after U.S. Unipolarity: In Search of a New North Korea Policy,” Journal of International and Area Studies 20, no. 1 (2013).
a. The South Korean Perspective
There is a serious debate between conservatives and liberals in South Korea about how to deal with North Korea. Liberals expect that Pyongyang may be willing to give up the nuclear option or that it has been simply using the nuclear issue to gain concessions from the United States and South Korea. Conservatives do not believe that North Korea will voluntarily sacrifice its nuclear weapons program for any reason. In their view, Pyongyang perceives keeping nuclear weapons as a vital interest and therefore the apparent willingness of the DPRK to offer concessions was merely a stalling tactic. Conservatives say North Korea is determined to possess its nuclear weapons regardless of any security assurances. Given the seriousness of the North Korea nuclear crisis, Pyongyang may well feel that possession of nuclear weapons is a better guarantee against US nuclear strikes than any other verbal security guarantees that the United States and South Korea may offer. In this perspective, North Korea is not likely to voluntarily give up its nuclear weapons.
Some conservatives argue that North Korea has sought to reunify the Korean Peninsula with its nuclear weapons program. They say that given the North’s record of aggressive behavior, acquiring nuclear weapons will reinforce Pyongyang’s inclination to invade the South. Even if Pyongyang’s nuclear capability were used only as a deterrent against the US nuclear threat, the dangerousness of North Korea as a rogue state would inevitably increase. Thus, these conservatives are skeptical of the notion that Pyongyang’s intentions have changed from offensive to defensive.
Liberals, however, argue that North Korea can be persuaded or bought off to suspend its nuclear weapons program if the United States and South Korea guarantee its security and offer appropriate economic rewards.7 Because North Korea may give up its nuclear weapons under certain circumstances, they believe that the North Korea nuclear issue is an “avoidable crisis.” Thus, they argue that negotiations should be done on the assumption that Pyongyang might be “talked down” from its defiant nuclear posture. They do not deny that North Korea wishes to develop nuclear weapons for its security. It is not unreasonable to them that any nation with intense security concerns such as those of North Korea should wish to possess nuclear weapons.
Furthermore, they recognize that the nuclear program became a useful tool of diplomacy and a flexible support system by drawing world attention to Pyongyang and establishing a firmer power basis for the regime. North Korea’s significance to the world with the bomb is much greater than it is without the bomb. Thus, liberals believe that the North Korea nuclear program can be shut down if Pyongyang’s security concerns and economic difficulties are addressed. Because North Korea’s goal is regime survival, not a military confrontation with the United States and South Korea, liberals argue, the nuclear weapons program is intended as a deterrent and a bargaining chip to ensure the survival of the regime. To them, although North Korea is not the most reliable negotiating partner and may even cheat if it is allowed to, it is likely to give up most, if not all, of its nuclear capabilities and engage the international community peacefully, as long as its security concerns are addressed and it feels that the long-term military and economic benefit outweighs the short-term benefit of developing nuclear weapons.
7. Chung-In Moon, The Sunshine Policy: In Defense of Engagement as a Path to Peace in Korea (Seoul: Yonsei University Press, 2012).
b. The North Korea Problem Resolution
The possibility of the North’s leadership promoting a reform program along the lines of the Chinese or Vietnamese model is low due to North Korea’s domestic situation and the security environment on the Korean Peninsula. South Korea’s policymaking should focus on how to lead North Korea’s leadership to pursue its own interests through means that are compatible with a peaceful relationship with Seoul.8
8. Most socio-economic reform programs can start with a new leadership. It does not mean a regime change but the change in the nature of leadership. For example, see the cases of reform program in Soviet Union under Mikhail S. Gorbachev and China under Mao Zedong. It is interesting to see how Myanmar pursues its reform program under a new leadership of President Thein Sein since 2011.
If North Korea’s leaders began trying to reform their system, the immediate result would be heightened socioeconomic instability due to the loosened grip on internal politics, so the DPRK leaders would feel increasingly threatened by their relative weakness compared to South Korea.9 Therefore for the successful resolution of the North Korea issue, there must be a linked internal-external strategy that consists of North Korea both giving up its nuclear weapons and promoting an economic reform program, while South Korea and the international society simultaneously ensure and support the safety of this policy.10 This is why South Korea’s government should create a new North Korea policy that increases the South’s leverage on the North’s perception and decision-making procedure. A new policy should also seek to engage both the United States and China.
9. In this regards, the North Korean leadership sets a reference point in its internal and external policy and seeks not to lose face. For the North Korean leadership’s reference point and face-saving, see Jihwan Hwang, “Face- Saving, Reference Point and North Korea’s Strategic Assessments,” Korean Journal of International Studies 49, no. 5 (2009).
10. Jihwan Hwang, “Getting Out of the Military-First Dilemmas: In Search of North Korea’s Coevolution Military Strategy,” EAI Asia Security Initiative Working Paper No. 17 (Seoul: East Asia Institute, 2011).
The discussions of a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula will be limited and ineffective unless recent changes in international relations are considered. A broad format such as the previous Six-Party Talks is necessary and should account for the changing balance of power between the United States and China. The difficulty here, however, is crafting a strategy that can succeed in the absence of trust between the two great powers around the Korean Peninsula.
In this context, it is necessary that South Korea’s government aim to make North Korea decide its strategy regarding nuclear weapons and economic reforms during its process of achieving the regime stability.
Turning Pyongyang from a “military-first policy” to an “economy-first policy” cannot be done by Chinese influence, but can be done through South Korea’s influence on North Korea. This is why South Korea’s government should pursue a North Korea policy that strengthens ROK’s leverage over North Korea.
Given the changing balance of power on the Korean Peninsula, it is also necessary to resolve the problem of “excess security” caused by the military tension between the two Koreas. In order to achieve this difficult task, South Korea should come up with a new North Korea policy that would increase the North’s dependence on the South. The first step for this is to rethink the changes in the balance of power after the end of US unipolarity in world politics and to take advantage of the changing relationship between the United States and China.12
12. Hwang, “The Two Koreas.”
c. Regional Cooperation
For North Korea, the nuclear issue is deeply connected to the future of the regime and the stability of its rule. Dealing with this problem requires more than naïve engagement, hardline punishment or the strategy of benign neglect. On the other hand, coercive hardline punishment, or a strategy of benign neglect only harden Pyongyang’s perception of Seoul as an adversary rather than a partner. In fact, if the North Korean regime is pushed into a corner, it may become more risk-acceptant and choose to lash out to avoid a loss of face for the regime.15 This situation would be very similar to the desperate mindset of “double or nothing” by terrorists who resort to suicide bombing, believing that they have nothing to lose. Nobody in the region wants to see such a worst-case scenario realized on the Korean Peninsula.
15. Hwang, “Face-Saving.”
Thus, it is recommend that the international society needs to provide North Korea with a face-saving exit even in a deep crisis and to persuade the North to accept the exit plan. In fact, there is a precedent for Pyongyang changing its course of action to save face. During the first nuclear crisis through the early 1990s, North Korea had confronted the United States but in June 1994 was suddenly willing to accommodate US demands in the face of the extreme danger to regime survival implied by UN sanctions and a prospective US attack.16 This historical example shows that it is possible to narrow the reference points between North Korea and international society, and that coercion alone without a face-saving plan will probably make North Korea more risk-acceptant. In short, it is necessary for the region to find a way of getting North Korea to concede and change its course of action with its pride intact and without feeling disregarded.
16. Joel S. Wit, Daniel B. Poneman, and Robert L. Gallucci, Going Critical: The First North Korean Nuclear Crisis (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2004), 398. See also Don Oberdorfer, The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History, new ed. (New York: Basic Books, 2001).
13. U.S. Engagement Activities with North Korea
a. North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons and the United States
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea) has been called the impossible state and the land of lousy options. The leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un continues to try to push the country into pursuing advances in both military and economic spheres, what has been called the Byungjin (“in tandem”) line. Improvements in North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons capabilities along with some changes in economic emphasis create, from a perspective of the United States government, a situation where those lousy options are rapidly becoming even worse.
Furthermore, avenues for the United States to improve relations with North Korea, both bilaterally and with multilateral partners in the region, become narrower, less certain of the destination, and loaded with roadblocks and potential dead ends with serious political and security implications for the United States, the Asia-Pacific region, and the world. Two issues have made things more difficult for the United States: North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile technology are improving, and North Korea’s rejection of condition offers for engagement by the United States and South Korea have given their respective leaders less flexibility to reach out to North Korea in the future. These dynamics significantly impact how the United States can interact, approach, and deal with North Korea to eliminate its nuclear weapons and missile programs.
North Korea is improving its missile capabilities, aiming to deploy a reliable means of striking the United States with a nuclear weapon. While North Korea has short- and medium-range missiles that can target US bases in South Korea and Japan, until recently North Korea lacked the capability to the continental United States. Unfortunately, this may no longer be the case. In 2011, then US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said North Korea would be able to hit the continental United States within five years with an intercontinental ballistic missile. One year later, North Korea tested a missile that launched a satellite into space. Recovery of the debris from that launch had South Korea’s defense officials believing the missile could travel “more than 10,000 km.”3
3. “S. Korea Says Debris Reveals North’s ICBM Technology,” Voice of America, 23 December 2012, accessed 26 July 2014, http://www.voanews.com/content /north-korea-missile/1570703.html.
b. National Interests for the United States
The North Korea nuclear weapons issue involves many short-term security problems for the United States. North Korea has used the testing of nuclear weapons and the threat of using nuclear weapons as provocations to induce engagement, to extract economic aid or support, to demand diplomatic recognition, and to undermine US alliances. All of the US military bases in Japan and South Korea, along with many American businesses and people that live, work, and travel to these countries, are within range of North Korea’s missiles. In addition to the need to protect these assets, the United States must maintain its credibility as a protector of its allies Japan and South Korea.
Another immediate US objective is nonproliferation. The US government wants to reduce the appeal of the North Korea example to other countries contemplating building their own nuclear weapons. North Korea’s deployment of nuclear weapons in defiance of US warnings undercuts current US negotiations with Iran, possibly providing additional confidence to Teheran and other governments not to succumb to US pressure.
It is not just its example that promotes proliferation; North Korea is actually collaborating with other countries in building nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. The US Department of Defense said one of its “gravest concerns” about North Korea is “its demonstrated willingness to proliferate nuclear technology.”8 North Korea and Iran have worked together on their nuclear and missile programs, have exchanged nuclear scientists, and have completed deals to transfer weapons. The two countries also signed a science and technology agreement similar to a deal North Korea and Syria made in 2002 that led to the Syrians nearly producing a nuclear reactor undetected.9
8. Office of the Secretary of Defense “Military and Security Developments.”
9. Ali Akbar Dareini, “Iran, North Korea Sign Technology Agreement,” Associated Press, 2 September 2012, accessed 26 July 2014, http://news .yahoo.com/iran-north-korea-sign-technology-agreement-104143016.html; Claudia Rosett, “Iran’s Sequel to North Korea’s Nuclear Playbook,” Forbes, 7 October 2013, accessed 26 July 2014, at http://www.forbes.com/sites /claudiarosett/2013/10/07/irans-sequel-to-north-koreas-nuclear-playbook/.
North Korea has sought out nuclear technology cooperation with other countries outside of the Middle East as well. Part of North Korea’s nuclear and missile success was because of the interaction it had with Pakistan. The US government fears North Korea could reach beyond state-to-state interaction to provide weapons expertise to non-state actors and terrorist organizations. Recently a US District Court judge ruled that North Korea “had worked in concert with Iran and Syria to provide rocket and missile components to Hezbollah” in the Middle East.13
13. Office of the Secretary of Defense, “Military and Security Developments.”
In the long term, the United States wants to see a reduction of nuclear weapons around the world. The Obama administration says it aspires to a nuclear weapon–free world. His promotion of nuclear nonproliferation was one of the reasons President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. This goal is also closely intertwined with the long-term US interest in maintaining an international order that regulates, monitors, and enforces universal norms. There is a global nonproliferation regime made up of organizations, laws, and resolutions to help prevent nuclear and missile proliferation and escalation. The Non-Proliferation Treaty on Nuclear Weapons (NPT) attempted to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and technology. North Korea’s withdrawal from the NPT set a bad precedent and hurt international cooperation on nonproliferation.
North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons is an obstacle to Korean reunification. If countries in the region have reservations about a unified Korea, these reservations are greater if that unified Korea was sure to have nuclear weapons. Moreover, if the United States and countries in the region were able to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, this would eliminate the potential danger of a race to seize and control those nuclear weapons and materials by special forces from China, South Korea, and the United States during a collapse of North Korea scenario. A long-term interest of the United States is to keep the unification process as peaceful as possible. A peaceful process is much less likely with North Korea in possession of nuclear weapons.
c. The US Approach to the Problem
Debates continue in the United States on how to best address the growing difficulty of dealing with North Korea’s threats to US interests in the region. The engagement versus deterrence debate still dominates the discussions about handling North Korea. While proponents of either side acknowledge both aspects are needed with North Korea, the arguments focus on which of these is most effective in getting North Korea to change its behavior. The growing threat from North Korea only strengthens the resolve of advocates on each side.
For those who favor more deterrence and pressure, only stronger military coordination and sanctions against North Korea will make the leadership take new positions more favorable for normal relations with the international community. The feeling that North Korea has pursued nuclear weapons and missiles even during times of engagement suggests to this camp that concessions without reciprocity will not elicit the desired response from North Korea.
However, North Korea’s successes in its nuclear and missile programs have caused a new debate to start forming on the advantages and disadvantages of waiting out North Korea. Despite a willingness by the United States and South Korea to wait for a better opportunity to engage, advances in North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs put pressure on the “strategic patience” and trustpolitik plans offered by US and ROK Presidents. Each technological success of North Korea further complicates the situation, making the direct threat to the United States even more imminent. This timing discussion then connects back with the engagement versus pressure debate; because the threat to the United States has increased, Washington can’t afford to wait and must immediately either engage North Korea or increase the pressure on North Korea to give up its weapons.
The debate on how to handle North Korea also includes a debate on US-China relations. China’s ties to North Korea stem from the experience of fighting together in the Korean War, a growing economic relationship, and party and government interactions. These increasing ties have forced countries into acceding that any movement with North Korea, especially on nuclear weapons, will require help from China. Thus, as the US and China try to navigate a future where the two powers interact more across political and economic spheres, North Korea continues to be an area where the two sides have different interests. This causes contentious discussions on how each side should be doing more to convince North Korea it needs to cease provocations and eventually give up its nuclear weapons.
Whatever the debates may be regarding North Korea, there will likely be less disagreement on the most appealing solution to the United States. A deal that provides a clear, quick path toward denuclearization and elimination of the long-range missile threat would likely be close to an ideal solution for the United States. This agreement would also have to include extremely good monitoring access of the dismantlement of both the missile and nuclear weapons programs.
While an optimal solution would likely have those components, finding the minimum aspects Washington would require to accept an agreement with North Korea would be difficult. Part of this complexity is that the North Korea threat against the United States has dramatically increased. Thus, a minimum ask from the United States a decade ago is unlikely to fulfill the minimum requirement of today.
Finally, in light of North Korea’s record of noncompliance with treaties and agreements, combined with its attempts to evade monitoring of its nuclear and missile programs, Washington would likely need some ability to verify the closure of North Korea’s weapons development programs.
With all sides appearing to be at an impasse, Washington, Pyongyang, and Seoul have been investigating compromise positions that might lead to a diplomatic solution. Envoys for nations involved in the Six-Party Talks have been traveling across the region trying to find an answer. Senior officials in the Obama administration still state they are waiting for North Korea to demonstrate a commitment to implementing the September 2005 statement and to create a path toward denuclearization.17
17. “Remarks at the Westin Chaoyang Hotel,” US Department of State, 28 January 2014, accessed 26 July 2014, at http://www.state.gov/p/eap/rls/rm /2014/01/220703.htm.
The timing of respective moves by Pyongyang and Washington could allow for flexibility on the US side. While the phrase “complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement” of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs was associated with the Bush administration, these are still the general aspects of a deal the US government seeks.
d. “Strategic Patience” Approach
The Obama administration’s policy toward North Korea, often referred to as “strategic patience,” is to put pressure on the regime in Pyongyang while insisting that North Korea return to the Six- Party Talks. The main elements of the policy involve insisting that Pyongyang commit to steps toward denuclearization as previously promised in the Six-Party Talks; closely coordinating with treaty allies Japan and South Korea; attempting to convince China to take a tougher line on North Korea; and applying pressure on Pyongyang through arms interdictions and sanctions. U.S. officials have stated that, under the right conditions, they seek a comprehensive package deal for North Korea’s complete denuclearization in return for normalization of relations and significant aid, but have insisted on a freeze of its nuclear activities and a moratorium on testing before returning to negotiations. This policy has been closely coordinated with South Korea and accompanied by large-scale military exercises designed to demonstrate the strength of the U.S.- South Korean alliance.
Critics claim that the “strategic patience” approach has allowed Pyongyang to control the situation and steadily improve its missile and nuclear programs. North Korea has flagrantly violated UNSC resolutions with rocket launches and nuclear tests. The policy not only depends on China showing greater willingness to pressure North Korea, but it also depends on U.S. allies maintaining unity, an approach that might falter if allies take divergent approaches. The collapse of the denuclearization talks has intensified concerns about proliferation as cash-strapped North Korea may turn to other sources of income. Because of North Korea’s poor economic performance, there is a strong fear that it will sell its nuclear technology or fissile material to another country or a non-state actor.11 Evidence of nuclear cooperation with Syria and Libya has alarmed national security experts.12
10 For more information on the terrorism list removal, see CRS Report RL30613, North Korea: Back on the Terrorism List?, by Mark E. Manyin.
11James R. Clapper, “Statement for the Record, Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community,” Director of National Intelligence, January 29, 2014.
12See CRS Report R43480, Iran-North Korea-Syria Ballistic Missile and Nuclear Cooperation, coordinated by Paul K. Kerr.
Many debates continue to rage about “how much” the regime has changed.3 These commentaries, conference presentations, and newspaper articles highlight what can often only be called anecdotal evidence to support one position or another. This is an important debate, and it adds to the stability of the regime, geopolitics in the region, and international security threats that may or may not evolve.
3. For one example of recent writings that address the change that has occurred since the death of Kim Jong-il, see Nicholas Hamisevicz, “No Illusions for North Korea: What Recent Provocations Tell Us about Kim Jong-un,” The National Bureau of Asian Research: Commentary, February 12, 2013, URL: http:// www.nbr.org/downloads/pdfs/PSA/Hamisevicz_commentary_02122013.pdf ?
The North Korean regime has three key pillars: control over the flow of information, control over the movement of people, and control over the means of production. We tell North Korea, ‘We want you to open and reform,’ but if you open and reform, you lose control of the movement of the people, you lose control over the flow of information, and you lose control over the means of production. This is why North Korea is so hesitant to reform because it’s dangerous.39
39. For more on the famine that North Korea faced in the mid-1990s, see Andrew Natsios, “The Politics of Famine in North Korea,” Special Report, The United States Institute of Peace, August 2, 1999, URL: http://www.usip.org/sites/ default/files/sr990802.pdf
The North Korean military has often – incorrectly – been categorized as the sole most important institution in North Korea.4 But, in fact, the military is one of the three key institutions and the power base to govern the country. These three institutions are the military, the party, and the security services. Thus, by using trusted family friends, and descendants of trusted family friends to run the key institutions in the country, the policy of “divide and conquer” rings true in North Korean governance.5 The military remains an institution that must be controlled – and that end state does not yet exist for Kim Jong-un. One cannot forget that the military is a very brutal institution (and this is one of the things that makes it such an important institution). 11
4. For an arguably interesting assessment on the role that the DPRK military plays in internal North Korean politics, see Terence Roehrig, “The Roles and Influence of the North Korean Military,” in Kyong-ae Park and Scott Snyder (Eds.), North Korea in Transition: Politics, Economy, and Society (Lanham, Md.: Rowan and Littlefield, 2012). ?
5. For more on North Korean institutions, see “North Korean Succession and the Risks of Instability,” International Crisis Group, Asia Report, No. 230, July 25, 2012, URL: http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/asia/north-east-asia/230- north-korean-succession-and-the-risks-of-instability.pdf ?
11. Lee Sang-yong, “NIS: Kim Aims to Unify by Force,” Daily NK, October 9, 2013, URL: http://www.dailynk.com/english/read.php?cataId= nk00100&num=11058 ??
The instability in the military is an important factor when one analyzes the focus and structure of the DPRK government. The leadership of the North Korean military has existed in a state of flux almost since the very beginning of the Kim Jong-un regime. When it comes to the readiness and capabilities, and the strategy of the military, however, there is no state of flux. Despite possible instability in the leadership of the military (and other key institutions), North Korea under Kim Jong-un remains locked into virtually the exact same military policy that it was under his father. There is no evidence suggesting anything else but this exact assessment.
North Korea has the highest ratio of troops to citizens of any nation on earth. It builds and proliferates not only nuclear weaponization technology, but the platforms to use it (missiles). Pyongyang continues to maintain the readiness and capabilities of its conventional forces, and has proven it will use these forces in violent provocations – all the while preparing for large-scale conflict. And even as we face all of these issues, the governments in Seoul and Washington must prepare for a threatening rogue state that could col- lapse or implode at any time.33
33. For an interesting piece that presents some of the contemporary threats posed by North Korea, see Holly Boggs, “A New War on Northern Aggression,” Georgia Political Review, February 18, 2013, URL: http:// georgiapoliticalreview.com/a-new-war-on-northern-aggression/ ??
North Korea remains a country dependent on external aid just to accomplish the minimal requirements to feed its people.37 But this can be misleading at times. The North Korean government had to face a massive famine that existed approximately from 1994 to 1996 (there was famine before and after, but this was the worst period according to most analysts).38 Yet, the government did not fall. This puzzled many analysts – both in academia and in the intelligence communities of countries all over the world. But the answer is simple. In order to govern North Korea effectively, one does not need to make all of the people happy. One simply needs to control all of the people in the country
37. See “N. Korea Needs External Aid to Feed Its People,” Yonhap, October 3, 2013, URL: http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/yonhap-news- agency/131003/n-korea-needs-external-aid-feed-its-people-report;
38. Patrick M. Cronin and Abraham M. Denmark, “Letters to the Editor: To Feed, or Not to Feed,” The National Interest, March 10, 2011, URL: http://nationalinterest.org/ letters/feed-or-not-feed-4989 ??
The South Korean government and military realizes that it faces many compelling threats from its neighbor to the North. Seoul also realizes that no matter what the effort undertaken – be it a force-on-force conflict, or a stabilization operation – it cannot be carried out without conducting coalition warfare/operations. It is because of this that the many initiatives are very important. South Korea needs to continue to do many things to upgrade and modernize its forces. At the same time, Seoul needs to maintain its very important alliance with the United States. Failing to do so could be disastrous for South Korea’s national security.
Nuance, flexibility, and cooperation will be needed to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear and missile programs. All five countries in the region along with the international community must begin to work harder to coordinate policy and pressure North Korea into maintaining consistent, positive interaction with its neighboring countries rather than the cycle it usually employs: provocation followed by a charm offensive.
A first step in that coordination should be encouraging North Korea to engage in consistent and positive engagement with South Korea. Better inter-Korea relations will be important for sustaining connections with North Korea, determining its willingness to interact with the international community, and reducing tensions on the Korean peninsula. With a reduction in tensions between the two Koreas, all sides and relevant parties gain more flexibility to work on the difficult issues of missiles and nuclear weapons.
In order to make progress on those difficult issues, better coordination and commitment is needed among the United States, China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan to develop both incentives and punishments for North Korea’s actions. The countries already have their envoys trying to figure out a framework for moving forward with North Korea. The five countries should begin meeting together as a group in Beijing, where the Six-Party Talks are officially held. The goal would be to illustrate to North Korea that the region sees North Korea’s nuclear weapons as a threat to stability. While little consensus may be achieved, North Korea needs to see that the other countries will move ahead even if North Korea doesn’t want to rejoin the talks.
Despite the small possibility of consensus, the five countries should try to develop an understanding about responses to a nuclear test and a multistage missile test, such as a general agreement on taking the issue immediately to the United Nations Security Council and reducing aid to and trade with North Korea. Adding to the sanctions on North Korea would increase the cost to Pyongyang of refusing to denuclearize.24 The five countries should also develop an understanding of the various aid packages each would be willing to provide to North Korea should Pyongyang decide to change course.
24. For a list of sanctions the United States could possibly still employ, see Bruce Klingner, “Time to Get North Korean Sanctions Right,” Heritage Foundation, Backgrounder #2850, 4 November 2013, accessed 26 July 2014, at http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/11/time-to-get-north -korean-sanctions-right.
However, this is a very unlikely scenario. The level of coordination that would yield even a basic multilateral agreement of shared principles would be unprecedented. More likely, each country’s interests and goals would take precedence, leading to five different approaches along with some loose interconnections between the efforts of the United States, South Korea, and Japan. North Korea will try to play all sides off each other, buying time to continue developing its nuclear and missile programs. These successes, along with the lack of receptivity to conditional engagement efforts by the United States and South Korea, have made trying to solve the North Korea nuclear problem more difficult for the United States. This difficulty increases with the passage of time as North Korea continues its weapons development programs while Washington waits for an encouraging DPRK response. For the United States, the path toward North Korea’s denuclearization will likely remain narrow, difficult, and dangerous.
The United States and its allies are moving into a new era of foreign policy shaped because of a smaller military and daunting economic challenges. Yet, the threat from a defiant and/or unstable North Korea remains compelling. North Korea also presents an evolving and unpredictable threat because of its military to both South Korea and Japan – arguably America’s two most important allies in Asia. The instability that now exists in North Korea because of an inexperienced leader with a tenuous power base is a concern for all nations with an interest in the region.
Ultimately the real question on most policy-maker’s minds – and on the minds of those with an interest in East Asia – is, should we take the threats that North Korea poses to the region and elsewhere seriously? Despite the prowess exhibited during provocations in 2010, new weapons systems that have been tested recently, and ongoing high training levels by asymmetrically competent units in North Korea, many continue to believe the North Korean military is a paper tiger. Despite the successful launch of a three-stage missile that would be able to target the United States, many continue to have contempt for Pyongyang’s growing ballistic missile program. The recent missile and nuclear tests were attended by Iranian dignitaries, engineers, and technicians, yet many still fail to stress the importance of the North Korean proliferation threat.46
46. “This is It: North Korea’s Hidden Power System,” New Focus International, December 31, 2013, URL: http://newfocusintl.com/north-koreas-hidden- power-system/; Kim Hee-jin, “Defector Trickle Could Become a Flood: Chung,” Joongang Ilbo, December 28, 2013, URL: http://koreajoongangdaily. joins.com/news/article/article.aspx?aid=2982685; Lee Kwang-ho, “Brutal Execution of Jang Song-Taek and Aftermath,” Vantage Point, Vol. 37, No. 1 (January 2014), 2–11. ?? For more on patrimonial politics in North Korea, see Steven Saxonberg , Transitions and Non-Transitions from Communism: Regime Survival in China, Cuba, North Korea, and Vietnam (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 109–111. ??
As we look to the future of Northeast Asia, it is important to realize that the biggest threat to stability and security in the region is North Korea. Not only does North Korea engage in rogue and/or threatening behavior, but it is also a potentially highly unstable country. Thus, we are faced with a country that does not hesitate to violate international laws to reach toward what it considers to be its national interests, but that also has the potential to collapse or implode at any time. It is because of this “two-headed” threat to security in the region that military planners and policy makers must deal with multiple scenarios for crisis on the Korean Peninsula. This dilemma makes the ROK-US military alliance all the more important. For those who believe this alliance is no longer important, or those who believe that North Korea no longer presents a plethora of compelling threats to security and stability in Northeast Asia and elsewhere. Only through careful planning and international cooperation can we truly expect to deter the North Korean government, or stabilize the country when it collapses.