DURING a New Year’s Day televised address, North Korean president Kim Jong-Un said the country had “reached the final stages” on preparations for an intercontinental ballistic missile, after first discussing the past year’s military achievements.
In typical fashion, the United States responded with heavy criticism by labelling Pyongyang’s move “provocative” and a danger to international stability.
US sharply condemns North Korea's plan to test-fire intercontinental ballistic missile & warns Pyongyang against "provocative actions" (PTI) pic.twitter.com/DH9FAYrmOr
— EconomicTimes (@EconomicTimes) January 3, 2017
The Pentagon warns North Korea over its latest threat to test a long-range missile https://t.co/4zaI1DoGwu
— TIME (@TIME) January 2, 2017
It has become commonplace to denounce Pyongyang provocations as irrational, but this remains far from the truth. The desire to possess nuclear weapons is not irrational, but rather a calculated move by North Korea.
It comes as little surprise that the achievement was mentioned in the televised address, considering North Korea once stated that if Saddam Hussein had possessed nuclear weapons, he would still be alive today.
It serves Pyongyang’s interests to regularly remind the world that they are developing an expansive nuclear program. Whether or not there is any truth in Kim Jong-Un’s statement is relatively unimportant, for it had its desired effect of arousing a fear within the U.S.
North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won't happen!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2017
This is going to be one of the big foreign policy crises of the next few years. Neither hawks nor doves have succeeded with North Korea. https://t.co/qXwa4uFkmr
— Nicholas Kristof (@NickKristof) January 2, 2017
Kim Jong-Un views the possession of a sophisticated nuclear weapons program as vital for North Korea, and he is slowly achieving his aim. Nuclear tests have continued, with two major tests in both January and September 2016, challenging the goals of non-proliferation espoused by the international community.
The United Nations Security Council banned North Korea from testing nuclear devices to little effect.
The criticism continues to flow, particularly from the U.S., however, surely the prospect of Donald Trump being in charge of a nuclear arsenal is a more dangerous precedent to non-proliferation than that of Kim Jong-Un. The latter, at least, aspires his country to become a nuclear power based on a policy of deterrence.
North Korea runs under the assumption that possessing nuclear weapons will act as a deterrent for military intervention. From Libya to Ukraine, those that have given up nuclear programs have been at the mercy of powerful states since the conclusion of the Cold War. Libya lost Gaddafi and Ukraine lost Crimea, thanks to a decreased ability to provide defence against the United States and Russia, respectively.
In the eyes of Kim Jong-Un, without nuclear weapons, North Korea will become subject to military intervention – a dangerous prospect for the reclusive regime’s survival.
Several rounds of sanctions designed to curtail the nuclear program have had little influence, considering the importance placed on nuclear weapons for preserving North Korea’s sovereignty.
Even if sanctions occasionally weaken the economy, it is the people – not the regime – who suffer. The alleged capability of launching an intercontinental ballistic missile may provoke the U.S. into pushing for new sanctions, but the anticipated change as a result is close to zero.
The prospect of a military intervention following the new announcement is also unlikely. North Korea has the capability to strike the heart of Seoul, located not that far away from the two countries’ de-militarised zone, but Pyongyang is not irrational. The allies of Seoul are well-known.
Trump has offered to meet Kim Jong-Un, albeit outside of North Korea, highlighting a shift in the dynamics of the relationship. He also called upon China to play a larger role in combatting North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, but China remains hesitant be a catalyst for change.
China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the U.S. in totally one-sided trade, but won't help with North Korea. Nice!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2017
China makes up 90 percent of North Korea’s foreign trade and although Beijing is not cheerful about Pyongyang’s nuclear program, it fears that any change in the status quo is far more dangerous. Regime survival takes precedent over civil war. Without strong Chinese encouragement, North Korea is likely to remain undeterred.
So what happens next? Nothing. Maybe another round of sanctions, but almost definitely not military intervention.
The international community expects a complete de-nuclearisation, an idea that remains untenable for the leadership in Pyongyang.
As long as the state of affairs in north Asia remains as it is, North Korea has little reason to bow down to the demands of the international community. Pyongyang continues to hold the assumption that nuclear weapons are a necessity for survival, and there is little that can be done to persuade the country otherwise.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent