When new leader Kim Jong Un came to power in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, hope began to bud that conditions on the Korean peninsula would improve. In spite of his young age, Kim Jong Un has managed to see the world and acquire a wide range of interests, so he should be able to set his country on the road to modernization by opening it up and initiating dialogue with his fellow tribesmen in the south. Some of the young leader’s first steps give evidence of just that, especially when considering the diversity of life of North Korean citizens and the liberalization of their life conditions.
On New Year’s Eve 2013, for the first time in 19 years, the North Korean leader appeared on state television with a greeting. In his televised address, he expressed confidence that 2013 would become a time of change and fulfillment for his country. Kim called on his fellow countrymen to be prepared for “radical transformations” which would convert the wretched and isolated state into an “economic giant” and raise the North Korean population’s standard of living. At the same time, however, Kim continued his policy of expanding the country’s nuclear missile capabilities.
In his televised address, the young leader mentioned that until the confrontation between North and South Korea is overcome, the country’s basic priority remains military power.
“The military might of a country represents its national strength. Only when it builds up its military might in every way can it develop into a thriving country,” said the leader of the DPRK.
The address coincided with a discussion by the U.N. Security Council on measures of response to Pyongyang’s attempts at launching long-range missiles. During Kim’s time in office, North Korea has carried out two attempted missile launches. The U.N. condemned the tests and introduced routine sanctions against Pyongyang.
Washington and Seoul began large-scale military maneuvers. In response, bellicose declarations and direct threats to South Korea and the U.S. — right up to carrying out a missile strike against them — sounded from the DPRK. The North Korean leadership announced an intensification of nuclear preparations. As a result, it seemed to some people that war was about to break out. I don’t believe it, and I hope that before this article sees the light of day, the tension in Korea will subside. Indeed, how can the DPRK wage war with the U.S., South Korea and Japan? Its opponents are capable of wiping the Juche “kingdom” from the face of the earth in a matter of days!
Also, it is not to the advantage of the U.S. and its allies to create carnage on the Korean peninsula. Whatever the outcome, a war would be fraught with grave consequences for South Korea. It is only a few dozen kilometers to Seoul from North Korean territory, and the DPRK would likely manage to inflict serious missile damage on the Republic of Korea’s capital. Nonetheless, an escalation of tension is taking place for a number of reasons. First of all, the actions of Washington and Seoul have provoked it. The allies decided to conduct large-scale maneuvers on the peninsula in order to verify the military readiness of their armed forces and jointly test out the DPRK’s youthful leader. Kim has every reason to fear that the enemy will attack the North under the screen of routine maneuvers. If the superpower that is the U.S. is slightly frightened by microscopic North Korea, then why should the latter gaze indifferently at the Pentagon’s activities at its own borders?
It is not, by the way, simply a matter of Commander-in-Chief Kim Jong Un’s legitimate and obvious concern for the safety of his regime. Kim wanted to demonstrate to the outside world and to his North Korean subjects that even though he is young, he is also fearless, strong and firm — that is, a real leader like his father and grandfather. Everyone should know: The fellow is not to be trifled with.
Kim has one more motive — to distract his compatriots’ attention from internal problems. The socio-economic situation in the country is complicated and has remained so over the decades. The people are tired of misfortune, their enthusiasm for work has diminished and they expect a change for the better from their young leader. With the bright future not fully dawned, what is the harm in rallying the nation in the face of an external threat? Such a trick has been employed many times and by many other regimes of the modern world — totalitarian, authoritarian and democratic. Another time-tested trick Pyongyang adopted long ago is to play the nuclear missile card and fling around militant rhetoric in order to wheedle concessions from its opponents. This tactic invariably worked in the past: After a routine splash of emotion, Washington and its partners would agree to render Pyongyang economic assistance and satisfy its other demands. This will repeat itself this time, too. Things are at a stalemate, after all.
As noted above, the two sides are not ready to wage war, and they will not. Without justifying the actions of the North Korean authorities, I still want to appeal to the U.S. to renounce its motive of isolating and intimidating the DPRK. As early as the 1970s, Washington proposed to Moscow and Beijing to recognize the government of South Korea in exchange for its own recognition of the North Korean government. Russia and China did their part over twenty years ago and have initiated close and productive ties with the Republic of Korea in all spheres since that time, including the military. But to this day, the U.S. refuses to establish diplomatic relations with the DPRK, highlighting various prerequisites. At the same time, the U.S. is extending its combative fist toward North Korea, refusing to abandon its strict rhetoric against its opponent. It seems that greater flexibility from Washington could be conducive to both reducing the heat of confrontation on the Korean peninsula and assisting Pyongyang in its transition along the road of long-overdue reforms.