By Max S. Kim*
North Korea’s Nuclear Conundrums
As each day passes, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un has an increasing chance to share the fate of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. For North Korea, unlike Iraq, weapons of mass destruction are a proven fact and plenty of biochemical weapons have been stockpiled alongside nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles. The North’s weapons of mass destruction are impossible to contain within the peninsula, and that’s precisely the problem the U.S. and the UN see. Recent reports show North Korea supplied chlorine gas to Syria (NYT, Feb. 27, 2018) and transported nuclear warheads to Iran (Eurasia Review, Dec. 10, 2017).
On the day that North Korea completes development of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles that can reach the U.S., the regime will ask the U.S. to withdraw armed forces from South Korea and sign a nonaggression pact, so that intervention of U.S. forces can be prevented when the North annexes the South under Kim’s rule. With nuclear threats, the North can easily bring the South to its knees. Adm. Harry Harris Jr. was correct when he said the North’s nuclear program is for forced military takeover of the South (AP, Feb. 14, 2018). Indeed, for the past 70 years, that has been the regime’s foremost goal and even written in its Constitution.
But with their overall capabilities of proliferation with weapons of mass destruction, the regime’s illicit activity has crossed the “red line.” Today, North Korea is among the most dangerous terror-sponsoring nations; it has also earned a reputation to be the most repressive and murderous nation on the planet. But its tactical nuclear threat at the U.S. was a grave miscalculation, and it has now backfired. As Gen. Joseph Dunford said, it is “unimaginable…to allow a nuclear weapon [from North Korea] to land in Denver, Colorado” (Politico, July 22, 2017).
Can North Korea give up nuclear ambitions now? Not a chance. A denuclearized North Korea will collapse internally and Kim Jong Un cannot accommodate denuclearization without readying for a regime change; the bellicose regime that refuses to back down will be defeated by external forces. Thus, the regime’s collapse is a matter of when, not a question of if, regardless of whether Kim de-nukes or not, since the regime’s time for stability and long-term management has run out.
The Trump administration has only one goal — denuclearization of North Korea — and Secretary of State, Tillerson put it succinctly: “I will continue our diplomatic efforts until the first bomb drops” to North Korea (Business Insider, Dec. 12, 2017). China, South Korea and North Korea all strongly oppose U.S. military action to defuse the North’s nuclear crisis, since any form of military conflict with the U.S. will lead to irreversible damage to North Korea, up to sudden collapse of the regime.
China and South Korea’s position on the fate of North Korea differs starkly from Japan’s, and that’s where third-party observers can see exactly what China and South Korea are planning for the Korean Peninsula: to sustain the Kim regime and have the two Koreas united as China’s satellite state. More on this later.
The Trump administration’s efforts include full use of diplomatic channels with China, Japan and Russia regarding contingencies for crisis management of North Korea, in the event of military action as well as finetuning of geopolitical concerns. Japan wants to secure safety of its citizens kidnapped by North Korea (Evening Fuji, Mar. 6, 2018). Russia suggested a “Ukraine for North Korea” trade to President Trump (Eurasia Daily Monitor, Nov. 9, 2017) asking for “help” in kind. China deployed 300,000 troops to its border with North Korea, and some experts believe they would move in to secure the North’s nuclear facilities in the event of military conflict and control millions of anticipated North Korean refugees into China (RedState, Feb. 5, 2018).
Collapse of North Korea and Contingencies
What contingencies are possible or should be prepared for North Korea after U.S. military action?
A recent article by Chan & Loftus laid out scenarios for a unified Korea after the regime’s collapse (The Diplomat, Jan. 10, 2018). Expecting substantial policy changes against the U.S. and Japan that the united Korea is likely to pursue under Chinese influence, the authors urged the U.S. to prepare for contingencies ahead of time.
But the scenarios were based on the authors’ understood role of South Korea as an ally of the U.S. and Japan in the Indo-Pacific region. Do the U.S. and Japan really trust South Korea’s government? To the contrary, there is every indication that South Korea has betrayed the U.S. and destroyed alliance with the U.S. and Japan, and the Moon administration has served China for Xi Jinping’s pleasure. U.S. trust for South Korea’s government is at the lowest point since the Korean War. It is realistic to expect the U.S. to exclude South Korea from participation in rebuilding a unified Korea. Japan’s government has shown strong distrust and dissatisfaction toward South Korea and condemned Moon’s Communist ideology in unusually harsh terms (Evening Fuji, Mar. 6, 2018).
China has biggest concerns about U.S. military option. A June 2017 survey of Chinese scholars yielded a wide variety of responses to the North’s nuclear crisis, from continued full support to severance of relations with North Korea, with most opting for limited support (Goldstein, Sept. 3, 2017). The survey outcome is consistent with China’s Korea policy. China wants a satellite state in the Korean Peninsula as a “strategic buffer” to keep the U.S. military from the border, which resulted in ambiguous policy toward the North’s nuclear program in favor of the regime’s stability. But a belligerent Kim with nuclear warheads is less than desirable. Xi may have eyed Moon for a contingency. In the aftermath of U.S. military option, Xi would prefer Moon to lead a more servile and softer satellite state in lieu of the Kim regime.
But the U.S. and Japan have no trust for Moon. It is very unlikely for the U.S. and Japan to let the Moon administration assume responsibility for crisis management of a unified Korea in the aftermath of U.S.-led military action against North Korea. With South Korea excluded, the crisis management after a second Korean war is more likely to involve multi-national governance and peace-keeping forces stationed in North Korea, and China could not object to that.
The Moon-Kim Summit As Inter-Korean Conspiracy
Moon Jae-in is the odd man at the wrong time. He has only meddled in the U.S.-led efforts to curb Kim Jong Un’s nuclear ambitions. Many wonder what Moon really wants. A short answer is, the two men can also be called “Moon Jong Un and Kim Jae-in,” both being nationalistic Communists who want a permanent unified Communist state in the Korean Peninsula. Thus, they share many common goals, such as withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Korea, nonaggression treaty between North Korea and the U.S., protection of the North’s dictatorship under Kim’s rule, foundation of one Communist Korea, and hostile policy against Japan, among others.
The Majority Leader of South Korea’s Parliament openly talked about a transfer of the ownership of land to the government. The Moon administration has prepared for a landmark amendment to the nation’s Constitution, paving the way to a Communist state. Most recently, Moon’s Security Advisor publicly spoke of moving the U.S. military out of South Korea. The list goes on.
A recent series of events that have led to the announced summit between Seoul and Pyongyang in April were the products of inter-Korean conspiracy. Every detail was already decided on well before the Winter Olympics and ahead of the formal meetings of the two Koreas. What the world has witnessed is a cunning political show meant to confuse the Trump administration and its allies.
The bottom line is, should North Korea want denuclearization, they would come forward and begin direct talks with the U.S. Why does the North need the South’s assistance in denuclearization talks with the U.S.? That’s the heart of deception and the Moon-Kim conspiracy. It’s like the two men are holding their hands together and circling around Trump in the middle.
South Korea’s every move is for undoing the UN and U.S. sanctions on North Korea, while North Korea can safeguard their nuclear ambitions by having South Korea as the bridge (or scapegoat, for better) to connect with the U.S. If the denuclearization talks fail, which North Korea really means, the frail bridge is to blame, not the fat Rocket Man on it. The underlying assumption is the Moon administration’s belief that Trump would not want to unleash wrath at his ally, South Korea, for giving North Korea the time and money necessary for completion of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, when the Trump-Kim talks ultimately collapse (as designed and so wished by the two Koreas).
How To Solve A Problem Like Rocket Man
The Kim regime has successfully deceived the U.S. administrations, from Clinton to Obama, and seems to think they will outsmart the Trump administration and ultimately win the nuclear game. But the nuclear crisis has one critical difference now: the Americans had not felt desperate about the North’s nuclear threats and proliferation before, but they do now.
North Korea has never backed down but always progressed toward advancement of nuclear and missile technology. At the current stage of near completion, the regime has absolutely no reason to stop. Only fools would believe Kim Jong Un’s latest message of denuclearization to the South Korean envoy and to the U.S.
This year, North Korea already feels the same level of poverty-stricken desperation they had in the 1990s. In Pyongyang, the price of rice per kilogram rose to 7,000 Won against an average monthly income of 3,000 to 4,000 Won (NKTV, Mar. 5, 2018). Even when 3.5 million perished from starvation in 1995 to 1999 (BBC, Aug. 30, 1999), the residents of Pyongyang were saved. Thus, the current economic pressure Pyongyang residents feel should be noted.
The North’s situation shows that the latest rounds of heavy sanctions have had effects. The two Koreas are desperate about undoing U.S. and UN sanctions at their best for the establishment of a single Communist regime in the Korean Peninsula. It is a critical time. If the U.S., Japan and their allies fail to stop the North’s nuclear ambitions this time, they would become hostage to the North’s constant nuclear threats for many years to come. As former CIA analyst, Michael Lee said, military option is the only solution to North Korea’s nuclear crisis. This author believes so, too. If North Korea’s Kim regime collapses, so would South Korea’s Moon administration. Most South Koreans now feel betrayed and many began to walk out to the streets and scream to Moon.
*Max S. Kim is a Seoul-based freelance journalist