North Korea: Stubborn Or Suicidal ?

During a recent visit to South Korea, the American vice president made an ominous statement regarding North Korea by saying “the era of strategic patience is over.” This inflammatory statement comes after tensions have been rising between America and North Korea, including ballistic missile testing after large military displays in the capital Pyongyang. In response, it was claimed that the US navy was sent towards North Korea as a means of applying pressure. The Trump administration has stated that it would be willing to strike these missile tests as a show of force, to which North Korea’s deputy foreign minister has stated that missile testing will continue, and any interference by America will result in all out war.

Reference to the reputation of the North Korean leadership and its atrocious human rights record is hardly needed, as well as the country’s bizarre ideology. However, it is hard to separate to what extent North Korea’s foreign policy is a ploy of deterrence or in fact the country’s international reputation is used as a tactic of intimidation and increased power. Whilst this article by no means demeans the aggressive behaviour of North Korea, I argue that an objective view should be taken which is often critically missing from Western media. Whilst North Korea has been testing ballistic missiles, it should also be noted that America has provided South Korea with vast amounts of military aid, including a missile system pointed at the heart of North Korea.

It seems hard to ignore that America upholds a double standard, by firstly refusing other countries nuclear capability, whilst also performing large military maneuvers in the vicinity of the country’s borders and other blatant acts of aggression. This seems to herald back to the period following 9/11 with neo-conservatives claiming to be the global policeman and taking unilateral action internationally. This was supported by a form of moral superiority that bordered on a patronizing approach to developing countries.

For an objective view, we should take a comparative examination of the historic and present treatment of those countries with and without nuclear capabilities. Countries such as Iran and Pakistan have gained the ability to deter American interventionism and to have a say in the international affairs of surrounding countries. In contrast, a clear example of a country lacking the deterrence value offered by nuclear weapons can be seen in Iraq, as the 2003 invasion demonstrates even with the supposed support of the international community, the best defence from outside powers is nuclear capability.

In conclusion, I believe that the only way to solve this crisis is through America following through with its arguments of moral superiority by taking the high ground and standing down. It is self-evident that America does not need to demonstrate its strength as this is an obvious fact. Therefore the question could be asked: what does America have to gain from this crisis? Furthermore, America is restrained by being a liberal democracy and any action against North Korea will have to be supported by Congress. However, Kim Jong-un, if pushed, will eventually have to use force in order to save face in front of the citizenship and prevent any potential dissent which could emerge if he was seen to be weak. American hardliners will criticize this view, as they believe any inaction will lead to North Korea gaining nuclear capability. What would this mean? Kim Jong-un will not follow a suicidal policy, instead, I argue this will force America to give North Korea a place at the table, something they are inherently unwilling to do as this would be a visible display that perhaps America is no longer the power they believe themselves to be.

Ross Field

Currently studying a MSc in Security Studies at University College London