Mohamad Radytio Nugrahanto- South Korea
There isn’t a single day goes by without news of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or famously known as North Korea) threatening its enemies with destruction and devastation, many of which based on its nuclear bomb development. This nuclear bomb development, while claimed by North Korean leadership as a deterrent against “foreign invasion” was widely viewed by South Korea, Japan and the Western countries as a “threat” to the world peace. And they are not wrong in their view.
While Russia sometimes bring up their nuclear ownership to subdue their enemies, they never done it directly into specific countries on multiple times. For countries that does not joined the ‘league’ of nuclear weapons owning countries, they also remain mum on the issue. For North Korea however, it’s a different game, since Kim Jong Il came to power, they always used it to either threaten their peninsula sibling the South Korea or their allies, including Japan and the United States.
In the past, they did it primarily to blackmail international community or, in the words to South Korean people, “when North hit by famine and asking the world for more rice”. Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 created drag effects on many of its client states, including North Korea, faced with mounting failure yet unwilling to share the fate of their Eastern European counterparts, Kim Jong Il resorts to nuclear weapons to maintain his regime’s survival. This went on for years, with most escalations happened in 2006 period after diplomatic talks failed and North conducted its first nuclear test.
Arab Spring in 2011 gave hope that dictatorships can be overthrown by the mix of democracy and people’s power (and with some foreign assistance). While now that hope is greatly becoming a winter, it is proving the idea that no regime, no matter how ‘strong’ the leader perceived to be, can survive without any foreign backing. Syria is a fine example of that, with Bashar al-Assad’s regime is essentially a grotesque doll whose strings being pulled by Moscow and Teheran. The same goes for the regimes in Myanmar and Venezuela, who in order to stave off people’s power and “foreign interference” becoming client states of China and Russia in the process from his palace in Pyongyang, Switzerland-educated Kim Jong Un watched this development.
Born as the second son of Kim Jong Il’s three sons, Kim Jong Un said to be the smartest and shrewd of all three. In the age of early 30s he managed to outmanoeuvre his elders to fully take control of a totalitarian state with 1.2 million army and active nuclear weapons. He seems to know that foreign powers, as close as China itself, are planning to make changes in his country. Indirect evident of this can be seen if one is looking for articles that endorsed the “China model” for North Korea. It would open up the North’s economy in a controlled fashion, leaving Communist party in control. Problem with this model, at least for Kim, is that the control on the Communist party itself will inevitably be opened up since new wealth will bring new power base and eventually, new competitors. And since the North has strongest economic ties with China, it would have major say in the future North’s politics.
The thing is, different from what is generally assumed, and currently China does not have enormous influence on North Korean internal politics. North Korean Communist regime is the only one in the world whose leadership always comes from the same family, spanning in three different generations. if he wanted to, Kim Jong Il could have appointed Kim Yong Nam, then-highest level North Korean bureaucrat-diplomat or Jang Song Thaek, then-most senior member of both Kim family and party elite to become leader instead of inexperienced and youthful Kim Jong Un, yet he decided to pass on to his favourite son, preferring family line over party.
The Other reason is, China-style opening would not only risk the family line, China was rumoured to consider Kim Jong Un’s replacement, China is keen to build a more manageable North Korea that would not become hostile to it but also does not become western base next to China’s own border. North Korean missile and nuclear program maintained by Kim Jong Un regime however, as we know, becoming the very reason U.S. sending THAAD System and putting 27,500 troops in the Peninsula.
Kim Jong Un’s response, other than killing his own brother (that rumoured to be close to China) is to speed up their nuclear program development into relatively advanced stage, that bring us to answer the question on earlier paragraph. In the span of 10 months dating back from December, North Korea has conducted much more missile and nuclear weapon tests than they did in the last ten years.
They not only managed to increase their missile level into semi-ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) but also succeeded in what being observed by U.S. Air Force Strategic Command leader Gen. John Hyten as a “hydrogen bomb”. It is far too intense to just “asking for rice”, since even before the hydrogen bomb was tested international community already imposed sanctions that effectively reduced “the rice” for hungry North Korea.
It seems the cornered by constant western pressures and Chinese willingness to replace him, he turned to advance his nuclear weaponry ICBM to serve not only as a deterrence from foreign interference but also grow the leverage. He would not dare to use it to attack South Korea since it will trigger unified retaliation against him. Instead, his rationale would be similar with Soviet Union strategy in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
To ensure Castro regime’s survival, Soviet Union sending an armada full of nuclear missile into Cuba, just next to United States sea boundary. After some period where World War III seems to be on the horizon, both sides finally reached an agreement to de-escalate, with Soviet Union agreed to removed their missiles from Cuba in return to U.S. promise not to invade Cuba, leaving Cuban Communist regime intact up to this day. And it is exactly the thing that Kim Jong Un wanted to achieve from all of his actions.
He believes that he can play China and United States against each other, using Chinese insecurity and western frustration to not only remove the sanctions but make both agreed to, in essence, not to challenge his power over North Korea. While it remain to be seen whether his actions would bear him the intended results or what kind of response(s) will be set by world powers, I will analyse three possible responses that may be agreed by world powers in the 2nd part of this article.
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