The Garrison State of North Korea: Why Kim never pressed the button...
Irrational, reckless and crazy...were only some of the features that the International Community, gave to Kim Jong Un, and Public Opinion strongly used in discussions about him, since 2011, when he became the leader of North Korea.
His personality portrait, the way he gets dressed, his stiff and ackward standing position, all helped to refer to a "clumsy" dictator, ready to"press the button" whenever he feels like, and destroy the world...But since 2011, this never happened. And there is a reason why Kim Jong Un, never "pressed the button". The reason -between many other factors ofcourse-, is that exactly as all the other leaders craving for power, he is not an exception to this. Which means, he uses nuclear weapons, to deter a U.S. attack, and to weaken U.S.A's alliances with Japan and Seoul.
Kim Jong Un, exploited for sure, the unpredictability, that his regime causes to the rest of the world. This way, he gained economic and political concessions, especially by the superpowers. Manufacturing crises, such as the test of a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean, are part of the game. North Korea, has managed over the years to build the political existence of the country, and to safeguard its non-extinction scenario, by promoting the idea, that nuclear weapons create an image of national pride and security, thus identifying North Korea to them.
This "exported" image of the country of North Korea, went hand in hand with another swift, in Kim Jong Un's personal style. During 2019 New Year's address, for the first time after years, he wore a suit and tie, and this way he replaced the Mao-style jacket he used to wear all the previous years. This stylistic change of course, can be explained by the fact that simultaneously to the country's nuclear image, his appearance, showed a modern leader, who can be calm and professional exactly as all of the other leaders with power. This way, he seeks for respect from other leaders, as a politician knowing how to negotiate, keeping himself away of his established image of a lunatic person, without control...
His intentions go far beyond, than simply remaining a nuclear threat in the region. Kim wants to upgrade the North Korean economy, to an extent that the country, can become a powerful East Asian economy. For that reason, he proceeded to a building construction without precedent. This building growth, includes amusement parks, ski resorts, restaurants, a new airport, and luxurious apartment buildings.
Despite the fact that China and Russia, tend to be allies with North Korea, they also have lately better relations with South Korea, and signed with the UN for sanctions against North Korea. That practically means, that Kim Jong Un, is supposed to go further with developing the country's nuclear capabilities, as a means of keeping "safe" and "independent". He is no exception to the general geopolitical status that one can observe globally. Exactly as all of the rest leaders, he seeks for power and maintainance. The fact that Trump withdrew during 2018, from the Iran nuclear deal, provides Kim, with the necessary proof, that the U.S., is a country he can't trust, despite the fact there has been progress on negotiations. The U.S., is considered to be an unreliable partner.
With a strong nuclear capability, Kim feels that China and Russia will protect North Korea easier, in case of a military action against the country. But still, North Korea has to stand on its feet alone, if it ever wants to become a countable player in the region. Due to sanctions imposed to the country, North Korea's trade has fallen significantly. China, which is accountable for more than 90% of North Korea's trade, has become lately, almost its unique trading partner. India and Russia, showed a decrease in imports and exports, a fact that proves, that Korea can easily be isolated, due to sanctions policy, issued by the U.S.
Closed borders to tourism, due to Covid-19, hit the economy even more, and Kim Jong Un, needs to focus on creating a stable and viable economy, inside a nuclear-armed country, that will be the "legacy" of his childern as successors.
The fact that North Korea, supresses political freedoms and civil rights, is an undeniable and despicable truth. But the U.S., and the rest powerful leaders, have been quite responsible for the fact that North Korea (for example), was somehow led to the way of dictatorship, as a means to remain strong and become a nuclear threat. Ofcourse, that does not mean Kim is a succesful political leader for his people, as long as he is a dictator who denies civil rights to his own people...But the fact that Trump (for example), presupposes a nuclear-free North Korea, as a means of a durable peace in Northeast Asia, is indicative of the fact, that the U.S., perceive peace, only in terms of monopolizing power and the nuclear threat. This policy, is no longer sustainable, and proves to lead to a dead end...This policy, has also been responsible for creating "enemies", willing to limit political freedoms, in order to maintain power. This need for developing a nuclear program, on behalf of countries, with a view of becoming a considerable "threat", appeared mostly out of fear of losing their independence.
As long as the U.S., do not realize that the time for change in international politcs has arrived, as long as they continue to demand from other countries negotiations with engagements on the nuclear issue, as if the U.S. represents the only "logical superpower", knowing how to use its nuclear arsenal, instead of others, then this vicious circle will go on for years...
Kim is surely a dictator for his own people, and that is a crime! But the U.S. monopolizing intentions, have given birth to such regimes, many times in the past. Kim has also appeared to be "logical" in terms of "Realpolitik"...He develops North Korea's nuclear arsenal, and he remains a threat, without using it. Exaclty as the rest of the leaders do. Kim obviously, aims for more than remaining a nuclear threat. His vision for the future, is a reunification of the Korean Peninsula, under his own regime. My question is, why should he stop this vision and negotiate with the U.S., on decreasing its nuclear program, when the U.S. believes it represents the sole "logical" possessor of nuclear power? More specific, why should Kim negotiate, when the U.S., expects to cancel sanctions against North Korea, only if the country proceeds to negotiations, with a view of engaging somehow to the U.S.? Ans why shouldn't China expect to somehow, "use" North Korea as an ace up its sleeve...?
written by Themis Panagiotopoulou, PhD in Political Science