The most frightening sight in the World is the cold robotic-like facial expressions of the North Korean Military Honour Guard. The N.Korean military is believed to be the fifth largest in the World. And since the Korean war ended in a ceasefire, rather than a peace treaty in 1953, the war between the North and South, is still technically, not over. Both sides view the other with intense suspicion. The Soviet North, and the American South. The situation isn’t helped by the fact that the U.S has troops stationed in South Korea. The situation is helped less by the North’s nuclear intentions.
Two months after the increasingly isolated N.Korea tested a ballistic long range missile, furiously antagonising the rest of the planet, Pyongyang today announced it has successfully carried out a Nuclear Weapons test, as powerful as the American attack on Hiroshima at the end of World War II. Not only have the U.S, U.N and the entire international community condemned the test; N.Korea’s closest allies China and Russia, condemned the tests also. China is of course worried that further sanctions will push hundreds of thousands of poverty stricken Koreans over the border, into China. N.Korea responded recently to this worry, not by helping people to escape poverty, but by building a barbed wire fence, on Korea-China border, to keep people in.
When an isolated, Marxist State, dedicates it’s resources to creating weapons that threaten the security of the whole of Asia, rather than elevating it’s growing poverty levels, the motivation moves from one of simply wanting to deter potential invaders, to absolute provocation of all international bodies.
There is suggestion that the tests carried out, could be the result of two issues. Firstly, that Pyongyang is attempting to reach out to President Obama, in order to prioritise the relationship between the two nations. In essence, a “look at what we can do” statement. If the tests continue, and improve as they seem to be doing, it would give Korea much more control of international diplomacy, and from a rogue State that doesn’t take too kindly to international Law, that is a worrying scenario. Former South Korean Foreign Minister Han Seung Joo has said of the North Korean Nuclear Weapons program “They want to change the game“. He is adamant the tests are to pull the attention of the new Obama Administration, toward N.Korean. “It’s one way of breaking in the new US administration to the North Korean way of doing things.“
Whether the U.N calls emergency meetings or not, and whether the Security Council issues strongly worded statements or not, it isn’t going to change anything. The U.N is a powerless body in essence, and even more so with such a dangerously isolated Nation such as N.Korea. The U.S is unlikely to change it’s position on N.Korea, and so the tests could continue.
The second potential reason for such tests, is the growing instability centred around a potential succession struggle, within N.Korea following the erratic Leader, Kim Jong Il’s stroke in August 2008 (the same time the six-party talks were abandoned). For the past few months, following the stroke, N.Korea has stepped up it’s show of secrecy, in a number of ways. Firstly, in March, twoU.S Journalists were arrested on suspicion of spying, and will face trial in a couple of weeks time, which could see them imprisoned for up to 10 years in a N.Korean jail; Stephen Bosworth, the chief Envoy of President Obama, to N.Korea has not been granted the right to visit Pyongyang; N.Korean recently dropped out of six-party talks to end it’s nuclear program in exchange for aid and stronger diplomatic ties and expelled international Atomic Energy Agency inspectors from the Country. The fear being that N.Korea, desperate for aid, may develop Nuclear arms that it could potentially sell on to terrorist organisations or Nations like Iran, especially if further sanctions are placed on the Country by a U.N Security Council resolution, following this latest Nuclear test.
It is suggested that there is internal strife over the succession, with various figures within the regime fighting for the succession, when Kim Jong-Il passes on. With no definite leader, and Kim’s sons all vying for power, the internal struggle could explain increasingly erratic behaviour within the Country. Although it is widely believed that Kim’s son Kim Jong-un will be named as likely successor to his father, Jong-un is diabetic, and so this lessens his chances, but doesn’t deter from his ambitions for power.
Another name is making a bid for power. The husband of Kim Jong-Il’s sister, Jang Seong Taek took up an important role on the North Korean National Defence Commission, the most powerful institution in N.Korea, which Kim Jong-Il himself is Chairman of. Taek is already Vice Director of the Worker’s Party, and has supreme oversight of the Police and Judiciary within N.Korea. It is suggested that if the Leader’s health continues to deteriorate, Taek may emerge as Chairman of the National Defence Commission, and that leaves him with a huge amount of power. It has been suggested that Mr Taek is already making key decisions within the Country. Taek may well be the key player, and apparent successor. Which, may not please too many family members of Kim Jong-Il, specifically, his power hungry sons. A peaceful transition of power is unlikely, given that there are indeed far too many ruthless players in search of extreme power within the World’s most secretive, and dangerous state. What is apparent, is that an isolated State under a ruthless Communist dictator is deadly enough, but an isolated State with no obvious Leader and multiple parties playing for control, is so very much more dangerous.
Perhaps the tests, and the arrests and the further secrecy is to keep a veil of privacy around the failing health of the ailing leader, and a likely fight for supremacy. Asia is all about honour, dignity, saving face, and so these provocations from N.Korea, may exist to show that the Country is not weak, to show strength. Of course, all N.Korea is achieving is further isolation, which is worrying on a number of levels.
The next year or two, for the international community will be interesting but for all the wrong reasons.