N Korea’s evolv­ing to get what it wants and needs

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

North Korea has been con­demned and sanc­tioned for its nu­clear am­bi­tions, yet has still re­ceived food, fuel and other aid from its neigh­bors and ad­ver­saries for decades. How does the small, iso­lated coun­try keep get­ting what it wants and needs?

Some put its suc­cess down to the ex­tra­or­di­nary nu­clear black­mail skills of a coun­try whose lead­ers could be buy­ing food in­stead of bombs and mis­siles. Some see the will­ing­ness of out­siders to help peo­ple in des­per­ate need, re­gard­less of how odious the gov­ern­ment that rules them is, and oth­ers credit the feel­ing in South Korea that aid could im­prove ties.

North Korea has had grad­ual eco­nomic growth in re­cent years and doesn’t ap­peal for for­eign hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance as much as it did in the past. De­spite mul­ti­ple rounds of UN sanc­tions, its leader, Kim Jong Un, has de­fi­antly pushed his sci­en­tists to de­velop nu­clear-tipped mis­siles ca­pa­ble of reach­ing the US heart­land. It test-launched two in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile in the past month, and once Kim per­fects such weapons, he may to try to ex­tract big­ger con­ces­sions from Wash­ing­ton. An ex­am­i­na­tion of how a coun­try that frus­trates and in­fu­ri­ates much of the world man­ages to get what it wants:


A re­lent­less pur­suit of nu­clear weapons has been a ma­jor source of the coun­try’s abil­ity to pull in aid and con­ces­sions. Since the North Korean nu­clear cri­sis first started in 1993, its gov­ern­ment has agreed to sev­eral now-dor­mant dis­ar­ma­ment-for-aid deals. One ac­cord was signed with the United States fol­low­ing bi­lat­eral talks in Geneva in 1994, while oth­ers were struck with sev­eral re­gional pow­ers in­clud­ing Wash­ing­ton dur­ing on-and-off mul­ti­lat­eral fo­rums that lasted from 2003 to 2008.

Un­der those deals, North Korea halted atomic ac­tiv­i­ties or dis­abled key el­e­ments of its weapons pro­grams in re­turn for se­cu­rity guar­an­tees, heavy fuel ship­ments, prom­ises of power-pro­duc­ing nu­clear re­ac­tors and other aid. De­spite it all, noth­ing has led to North Korea sub­stan­tially dis­man­tling its nu­clear pro­gram. Wash­ing­ton ac­cused North Korea of cheat­ing and covertly con­tin­u­ing its atomic work, while the North of­ten ac­cused the United States and oth­ers of fail­ing to pro­vide aid on time.


Seoul, though the North’s bit­ter en­emy, has also helped its neigh­bor reg­u­larly. Dur­ing the Sun­shine Era of in­ter-Korean de­tente from 1998 to 2008, lib­er­als in Seoul es­poused greater rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

This was wel­come in North Korea, which had de­pended on out­side hand­outs to feed many of its 24 mil­lion peo­ple and re­vive an econ­omy dev­as­tated by a famine that killed hun­dreds of thou­sands in the mid-1990s.

South Korea shipped hun­dreds of thou­sands of tons of rice and fer­til­izer to North Korea an­nu­ally and en­gaged in co­op­er­a­tion pro­jects that be­came some of the few le­git­i­mate sources of for­eign cur­rency for the North. The value of the cash and goods pro­vided to North Korea dur­ing that time was $6.8 bil­lion, ac­cord­ing to Seoul’s Uni­fi­ca­tion Min­istry.

Lib­er­als credit their en­gage­ment with low­er­ing border an­i­mosi­ties and al­low­ing two land­mark in­ter-Korean sum­mit talks and emo­tional re­unions of fam­i­lies sep­a­rated by war. Crit­ics ques­tion whether South Korean aid and in­vest­ment reached those who needed it most or in­stead helped fi­nance the North’s weapons pro­grams. Seoul’s large hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance pro­grams and co­op­er­a­tion pro­jects were sus­pended after con­ser­va­tives came to power in 2008.


China is widely seen as cru­cial to US-led ef­forts to strip North Korea of atomic bombs. China ac­counts for about 90 per­cent of North Korea’s trade, and it sends about 500,000 tons of crude oil to North Korea, mostly for free, ev­ery year. China and Rus­sia are also the two big­gest hubs for tens of thou­sands of North Korean work­ers dis­patched abroad - an­other key source of in­come for the North.

Crit­ics say Bei­jing has never fully im­ple­mented U.N. sanc­tions on the North out of wor­ries that a North Korean col­lapse could cause a wave of refugees to cross the border into China and Amer­i­can troops to move into the North. China is frus­trated with North Korea, whose nu­clear am­bi­tions put Bei­jing in an awk­ward in­ter­na­tional po­si­tion, but the Kim gov­ern­ment still best serves China’s na­tional in­ter­ests. Some be­lieve even a brief sus­pen­sion of Chi­nese oil would cause chaos in the North and force Kim to change. “If China stopped send­ing fuel ship­ments for just two to three weeks after the North’s first ICMB launch on July 4, North Korea would not have dared con­duct a sec­ond fir­ing,” said an­a­lyst Cheong Seong-Chang at South Korea’s Se­jong In­sti­tute. — AP

In this July 4, 2017, file photo dis­trib­uted by the North Korean gov­ern­ment shows what was said to be the launch of a Hwa­song-14 in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile, ICBM, in North Korea’s north­west. — AP

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