“The provokers will meet only merciless retaliatory blows.”
If North Korea’s bite were to match its bark, there would be considerable basis for concern. Thankfully, it does not.
North Korea’s deified 20th century dictator, Kim Il-sung (father to Jong-il, grandfather to Jong-un), won the hearts and minds of his people by way of promoting juche, his philosophical framework, which, in his own words, demanded that one be “the master of revolution and reconstruction in one’s own country. This means holding fast to an independent position, rejecting dependence on others, using one’s own brains, believing in one’s own strength, (and) displaying the revolutionary spirit of self-reliance”.*
The North Korean regime is many things, but self-reliant certainly isn’t one of them. With regards to food and energy supplies, North Korea is critically dependent on outside assistance. Though it is difficult to determine the extent to which famine is currently ravaging the North Korean population, most experts agree that starvation and malnourishment are abundant, especially in the agriculturally disadvantaged north.
Though recent happenings might suggest that Kim Jong-un underestimate’s famine’s potential for destruction, North Korea is, in fact, no stranger to the stark reality of food shortage. It is suspected that 5-10% of the population, around one million people, perished as a result of a massive mid-1990’s famine known as the “Arduous March”.
Ironically, in the years to follow this devastating era, two of the three primary aid sources (China being the third) propping up North Korea were South Korea and the United States, the very same countries which have long been the focus of ongoing threats and saber rattling. Recent years have seen both countries link their aid agendas to the North Korean regime’s willingness to embrace a nuclear disarmament process. This move creates a moral conundrum, in that undeserving civilians are forced to be the sole bearers of the burden associated with their government’s reckless defiance.
The choice is uncomplicated and, one would think, obvious: develop a nuclear arms program or avoid widespread starvation.
North Korea essentially faces two options. For better or worse, both the US and South Korea have made it abundantly clear that their stance on the issue is one of mutually exclusivity. The choice is uncomplicated and, one would think, obvious: develop a nuclear arms program or avoid widespread starvation. Astonishingly, the April 2012 attempt to launch a long range rocket seems to indicate that the newly initiated Kim Jong-un is more interested in pursuing military might than feeding his people.
North Korea’s actions in 2012 seem only to indicate that they intend to move forward with their nuclear program, but for how long can they sustain this provocation?
China, North Korea’s primary benefactor and lone ally, recently backed the aforementioned UN sanctions on NK following a second, this time successful, long-range rocket launch in December 2012. While the Chinese have a vested interest in North Korea as a buffer between they and the democratic, capitalist South Koreans, there is little incentive to support a nuclear armed regime. The Chinese vote in favor of the UN sanctions is telling of their new president’s desire for cooperation with the US and South Korea. Billionaire businessman Xi Jinping, who will soon take over for Hu Jintao, may very well represent a new era of Chinese diplomacy, an era that will not bode well for North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
Assuming the Xi Jinping administration moves forward with its sensible stance on international relations, it is likely only a matter of time until circumstance dictates that Kim Jong-un abandon his nuclear agenda. This cannot happen soon enough, for the fate of thousands of malnourished North Koreans hangs in the balance.
If you’d like to read more from Andy Bax, please check out his blog at The Nomad Diary.