North Korea – The Position of the United States

According to, the United States waged war on Iraq, where the presence of atomic bombs was not confirmed, while North Korea, also included in the axis of evil like Iraq, claimed to possess the atomic bomb. From a purely theoretical point of view, the US should likewise prepare for a war in Korea, but they don’t want to, because Iraq is globally important for its oil and Korea is not. The United States prefers dialogue with North Korea, even though it has declared the war in Iraq to be part of the war on terror and Korea is openly terrorizing everyone. The United States cannot accept being haunted by threats from a nation that wields its missiles like a bully its guns in the saloon of a spaghetti western, but – as President Bush said on December 31, 2002 – “I believe that there should not be a military solution, but a diplomatic one. We can resolve it peacefully”. For its own sake, Pyongyang must recognize that threats make the situation worse, not better, and that its allies are South Korea, China and Japan, who have an interest in maintaining peace in the region. Especially the South Koreans can play a pivotal role with their policy of dialogue and cooperation. Bush argued that “there is a shared opinion […] that North Korea must comply with international regulations. All options, of course, are always on every president’s table, but by working with these nations a solution can be found.” And among the friends of America, South Korea is a cornerstone. According to Bush, the United States has made great progress in speaking with allies about the tensions with Pyongyang. The meeting with the newly elected South Korean president, Roh Moo Hyun, proved to be particularly useful and positive.

Pyongyang, for its own good, should therefore stop making weapons resound. But can he do it? Could internal balances allow its leaders to drop the inane claims about nuclear war and simply ask for help? The answer to these questions lies only in Pyongyang and concerns the strength and determination of the current leadership. Contrary to what it may seem, if Kim Jong II is solid in his leadership position and determined to bring his nation out of misery, he must stop the nuclear program. Persistence in wielding the threat of weapons could be the indicator of profound weakness, strong rivalries, power struggles and an obvious inability to understand the international reality.

A lack of reform

In the spring of 2002, Korea finally launched a series of Chinese-inspired reforms, but the results were disappointing. The signs of improvement shown by the economy have been small, if not absent. The reason is simple: the reforms were badly conceived and badly carried out. It was promoted by a group of politicians convinced of the real need to restructure the economic program, but considered too close to China to be authoritative. In Pyongyang, if you are in favor of reforms and show admiration for the model of economic change that has been successful in China, you are regarded with suspicion. Kim preferred to entrust the reforms to people who were skeptical about it. Not surprisingly, the result was negative.

But if the economy doesn’t improve, North Korea will become even weaker and more dependent on foreign aid, unable to survive on its own. It is difficult to assess the situation, but it seems entirely justified to say that if foreign aid were to fail, the state would collapse. If this is the actual situation (in reality it may be like not being, since very little is certain in North Korea), the only way out for the regime is blackmail. Korea must acquire weapons of mass destruction to request aid or avoid failure to deliver what it has been promised. Improving the economy through Chinese-style reforms can be seen as too high a price to pay in political terms. North Korea does not want to become dependent on China.

In the early 1980s, old Kim II Sung was accompanied through the Sichuan region by Deng Xiaoping. Praising the virtues of China’s ongoing reforms, Deng encouraged North Korea to adopt changes based on the same model, but his efforts had no effect. China and North Korea have limited themselves to maintaining good neighborly relations. The situation was different in relations between China and Vietnam. The two countries fought a war, for years relations between them have been anything but friendly and even today they are far from being good. However, Vietnam has adopted economic reforms clearly based on the Chinese experience, which perhaps in a sense were made possible precisely by the tension in relations with China. In reverse, North Korea apparently feared that Chinese-style reforms could over-engage it with China, compromising its political independence. This too is proof of the difficulty of relations between China and the countries that were part of its sphere of influence at the time of the Cold War.

North Korea - The Position of the United States

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