North Korea’s nuclear objectives may prompt policy change in NE Asia

By Zheng Jiyong Source:Global Times Published: 2017/10/17 20:23:39

North Korea's nuclear cognition has two aspects: judgment of the strategic environment at home and abroad and nuclear objectives under the background of its self-recognition as a "nuclear power."

North Korea believes the current domestic and international situation has undergone fundamental changes from a strategic point of view, which far deviates from the era of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

North Korea's security environment is confronted with unprecedented threats. Ever since Kim Jong-un assumed power, the internal environment has become dangerous. The execution of Jang Song-thaek and other senior officials brought turbulence to domestic politics and social and economic development has ceased to advance.

The external environment is also unfriendly. The international community has imposed more sanctions on North Korea, which has severed its economic ties and personnel exchanges with other countries.

In the military aspect, North Korea's conventional military forces lag behind and are even shrinking due to years of military sanctions. Under the circumstances of low-level and repetitive military training and outdated training methods, North Korea has to resort to nuclear weapons to restore nuclear terror and ensure state security.

Internationally, North Korea believes China can no longer be relied on and the two cannot support and echo each other. Due to contradictions in understanding the nuclear issue, the relationship between Beijing and Pyongyang has remained frosty for many years. North Korea relies too heavily on China for trade, but the dependence on China as a lifeline, coupled with mutual strategic suspicion, makes communication difficult.

Russia is also under encirclement from the US, making it impossible to provide North Korea with more substantial help except voicing verbal support. At the same time, the actions of the US and South Korea have strengthened North Korea's determination to have nuclear weapons. Under such international recognition and strategic judgment, North Korea has two strategic objectives: to safeguard the state's security and to ensure the legitimate existence of its regime.

To be precise, nuclear weapons can help North Korea counter the growing military pressure of the US and South Korea, turn Japan and South Korea into a buffer zone, form an internal deterrence and improve intrinsic stability, and set a bottom line to protect itself.

At present, having an environment with no war and no chaos is of fundamental importance to China's interests, which should be given priority.

In dealing with the North Korean nuclear issue, the "blocking" approach has failed and it's meaningless to continue. It may be better to take a "mediating" approach.

It is imperative to patch up the loopholes in the global nuclear non-proliferation institution. US double standards have seriously harmed the mechanism and caused more countries to pursue nuclear weapons. China should study its impacts on national security and global strategy as more countries possess nuclear weapons. Undoubtedly, the possession of nuclear weapons by both Seoul and Pyongyang will stimulate Japan's wish for them too, forming a domino effect in Northeast Asia. Technically speaking, the threshold for manufacturing nuclear weapons is not high. It is only US suppression that stops this domino effect from happening, but without this, it's only a matter of time before others possess nuclear weapons.

Under these circumstances, we should study what a nuclearized Korean Peninsula would be in advance to find a solution.

The author is director of the Center for Korean Studies at Fudan University.


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