The recent North Korean missile launches and hydrogen bomb tests had the US and its allies worried. Japan and South Korea voiced their displeasure, while Trump threatened them with ‘fist and fury’. A special session of the security council was requested for by Japan, France, Britain, South Korea and the US. It is expected to vote on its future actions in the coming days. The session was clearly divided amongst permanent member nations.
Nikki Haley, the US representative to the UN stated that the North Korean regime of Kim Jong Un was ‘begging for war’. Simultaneously, representatives of China and Russia advocated a different approach. The Chinese representative, was clear when he said that ‘China would never allow chaos and war in Korea, while his Russian counterpart, stated that sanctions alone will not solve the crises. These differences are likely to derail any strong measures being desired by the US.
North Korea has a small land border with Russia, one thousand five hundred Kms with China and two hundred and fifty Kms with South Korea. For China and Russia, North Korea is a buffer and considering the experience of the breaking down of the Berlin wall, would never desire a pro-US Korean state from being createdon their borders, in case of a regime collapse, triggered by US actions.
Hence comments by Chinese and Russian representatives at the UN were clearly aimed at ensuring that North Korea remains in its present form, a buffer between them and US influenced and supported South Korea.North Korea is also aware that it would be supported to the end by these two powers, who like them, always consider the US as a major threat.
Further, to ensure security of its nuclear and missile installations and deny the US from launching successful precision strikes, North Korea has positioned most of them close to its borderwith China and near China’s three most developed industrial regions, its three North Eastern provinces. This would result in nuclear fallout spilling into mainland China and further impacting them by mass refugee inflows. This is another reason for China to ensure that there should not be any hostile actions against the regime.
For North Korea, it is easier to threaten South Korea and Japan, than the US mainland, mainly due to its missile technology limitations. Guam has been added, as its technology grows. It is also aware that it may not be able to engage the US in a direct conflict, but can threaten both, South Korea and Japan. It has proved this fact on numerous occasions. The North has its artillery and missiles deployed targeting Seoul, which is barely sixty Kms from the border. Japan has been within its missile ranges and the latest North Korean missile launch was over the second largest Japanese island of Hokkaido.
North Korea is clearly aware that threatening the US verbally and South Korea and Japan by military might would invite strong reactions from the US. This in no way indicates that the North Koreans are suicidal and desire to engage the US in a war. To understand the reasons for this continuous demonstration of threats, there is a requirement to understand their internal dynamics.
Kim Jong Un is presently firmly in power in North Korea, though younger than almost all forming part of his inner circle. He would take some time, before he has people of his own choice surrounding him. His recent purges have proved his control over the nation. The ruling elite has little concern over the masses. It is certain of their support, since it follows institutionalized brainwashing. This is evident when locals display dramatic emotions in the presence of their leader despite lacking basic medical care and food.
Even after the great famine, which claimed to have consumed over two million lives, there were no protests. The people have become accustomed to suffering and lacking any knowledge of the outside world are blissfully unaware.
The states complete control over the media ensures that the populace only hears and sees what the government desires. Hence, for most, the outside world does not exist. It is only the elite, which has partial access beyond North Korea. The elite realizes that any change in regime would impact them the most, hence remain loyal and trustworthy, solely to enjoy their own privileges.
Militarily, the nation is weak. It is aware that it cannot face the might of South Korea alone, however, its missile power and nuclear weapons provide it with a guarantee of security. Its military equipment mostly consists of outdated Soviet era weaponry. It has immense shortages in spares, ammunition and fuel. It is incapable of launching an offensive, hence is compelled to fight a defensive battle. Its force multipliers remain missiles, nuclear and chemical weapons, terrorism and cyber-attacks.
The world is aware that North Korea’s missile and nuclear program has been supported by China with technology being provided by Pakistan and China. There have been reports that the Chinese ambassador requested for an audience with Kim Jong Un, prior to the last set of sanctions, but was unsuccessful, infuriating the Chinese Government, which then agreed for sanctions.
All earlier sanctions have failed to impact the North Korean nuclear and missile development programs. The nation has concentrated its limited income on missile development, to ensure regime security, without caring for its masses. In earlier sanctions, the UNSC banned export of coal, iron, lead and seafood products. It was worth a third of North Korean exports of three billion dollars. It also restricted sanctioning permits for new workers abroad.However, it failed to deter the country and a Hydrogen bomb test followed.
Presently new measures being considered could include air and maritime restrictions and restricting oil to North Korea’s military and weapons program. This may have limited impact. Oil could affect its military preparedness; however, priority would remain with the nuclear and missile development program.
To further substantiate Chinese-North Korean relationship, there have been no major visits nor any joint exercises between the two countries anywhere in the recent past. Thus,while China has little hold and desire to support North Korea, it would never permit the regime to collapse. Russia too has little to do with North Korea, but like China, is unwilling to let the regime collapse.
The west, led by the US has been insisting that North Korea caps its nuclear and missile program in return for financial and economic aid. However, with a rising South Korea on its border, a reluctant China on the other end, it has limited options. Kim Jong Un is unwilling to become another Saddam Hussein nor a Gaddafi, overthrown because they did not toe the line of the US while surrendering their weapons program. It is also aware, that Pakistan, irrespective of the support it provides to terror groups remains secure because it possesses nuclear weapons. Hence, this approach may not work.
Secure in the knowledge that nuclear weapons and possession of missiles would ensure continuity of his regime and fear of a pro US government as an alternative on Chinese and Russian borders, China and Russia would ensure his survival, Kim Jong Un, continues with provocations. The act is neither suicidal nor seeking a war nor further sanctions nor destruction of either Japan or South Korea, but recognition, an action the west seeks to avoid.
The regime needs to be assured by the west that it would not seek a regime change, it would accept the state is a nuclear power and interact with it in a mature manner, providing it economic support. The west should understand that North Korea would be unwilling on capping of its program, till it has reached a desired level of nuclear power, which will guarantee its security.
The entire North Korean leadership would support Kim Jong Un, solely because if the regime is overthrown, they would lose their power and privileges. Studies on impact on the nation, in case Kim Jong Un is removed have been conducted. Most remain inconclusive as options vary from the leadership nominating another family member as his replacement to engaging Seoul with firepower to capitulation. It is this doubt which has prevented the west from considering the military option. While being pressurizedby the west, there are reports of back channel diplomacy in progress in Canada.
India had been training North Korean officers at its Army Education Corps language training school in Panchmari (MP) since 2008. The present government also stopped their training in 2016. Based on UN demands, India stopped supply of any items that would add to North Korea’s military’s operational capabilities with the exception of food or medicine.
India had in the past also trained about thirty North Koreans at the Centre for Space, Science and Technology Education in Asia and the Pacific located in Dehra Doon. Hong Yong Il who is one of those trained in Dehra Doon is presently the first secretary in the embassy in Delhi and Paek Chang-Ho rose to become the head of the agency involved with their satellite launch in 2012.
India has had diplomatic relations with the country since the seventies, though India has been one of the staunchest opponents of its nuclear weapon development program. Unlike most others whom North Korea distrusts, including China, India has a reputation for being non-aligned with an independent foreign policy. While it has criticized the regime for its nuclear and missile tests, it has continued to engage with the country. India is also not under any form of threat from the regime.
Thus, India is in a position to seek the nation’s views, demands and desires, employing its embassy in the country. It could then be a conduit seeking to convince the west to change its insistence and reduce its pressure on the nation. Even the US has hinted about India’s ability to be a broker in the crises.
While India may not be directly involved in the negotiations, it could play the role of a pathfinder, seeking common ground and enhancing trust and understanding between opposing parties. Such an action would enhance India’s standing and reputation within the comity of nations, especially as India now seeks a permanent membership of the UNSC.