Posted: December 14th, 2011 | Author: Benjamin | Filed under: East Pacific, International Relations, Nuclear Dispute
North Korea is once more concerning the world with latest findings on possible nuclear weapon trades, which are expected to have gone as far as Syria, Iran, and Burma. Additionally, an upcoming transfer of power from current ruler and father Kim Jong-il to son Kim Jong-un (27 years old) put North Korea’s nuclear program at risk.
Since current ruler Kim Jong-il had a stroke in 2008 and suffers from increasing poor health conditions a succession is likely to happen soon. Upcoming successor Kim Jong-il with his young age supposedly lacks a sufficient power base in the Korean Workers Party of his father (KWP) and is likely to be challenged by other parties who wish to obtain more power and influence. These challenges could leave North Korea’s nuclear program unguarded and open to misuse.
North Korea is one of the worlds’ few remaining communist states. While famous for being one of the world’s biggest suppressors of freedom of media, North Korea is also criticized for Human Right violation by Human Trafficking across the border to China. The ruling Kim family is renowned to be clever and enjoys almost unlimited power and luxury. Despite the fact that North Korea’s economy is considered “in a desperate state” the country upholds one of the largest armies in the world. With a total population of 22.7 million, and a total troop size of 6 million, including 1.2 million active personnel, the military consumes around one fourth of the countries GDP (Total USD 40 Billion). North Korea outnumbers South Korea’s army by two to one, which is another reason why the United States remains troops in South Korea.
About 20 years ago the government influenced the people’s private life and daily activities to an extent that is hard to imagine. The family background (songun) was and often still is determining the social status and future opportunities. If ancestors were engaged in activities against the regime’s liking or of foreign origin they were part of the “Hostile class” and excluded from major cities and good universities. The state had sole control over the people, paying their salaries, distributing all goods, and even deciding about their private life. Once the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, their main sponsor cut all support. Food rations stopped and their monthly salary was not enough to afford food. Over 500.000 people died of starvation. Ever since, North Korea relies on international aid, mainly from the United States, South Korea and China, to feed its population. As a result North Korean’s developed a black market, which is besides a few yearly crackdowns, accepted by the government. The black market trades all goods of society. The new capitalist economy favors ruthless behavior and nurtures social inequality.
While earlier times a seven to ten year military service and joining the Workers Party was the only way to rise in status, now these careers lost much of their allure. A smuggler or merchant’s income already exceeds the salary of military. The key positions are still respected and held by the songun elite but the black market praises with high returns. Money started to rule society.
While North Korea’s nuclear and missile program are one of the sole achievements of the government it is not surprising that they refuse inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) once more in 2008. As a result, it is not known yet whether North Korea stayed with plutonium or it was able to actually produce highly enriched uranium, which is far easier to transform into heavy weapons. North Korea had started their nuclear testing in 2006 and since then made significant progress, setting up a new enrichment plant with latest centrifuges. Especially South Korea and the United States have already expressed their concerns on North Korea’s stability and the possible threats to its nuclear assets. The United States Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman said in November 2011 that North Korea must stop its uranium enrichment program and shall return to its denuclearization pledges of September 2005. All parties (North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia, China and the United States) are interested in resuming talks but demands from both sides are not accepted from either side.
In exchange for their food supplies, Seoul first proposed demands in 2010 on North Korea’s nuclear program. North Korea reacted with a violent attack on South Korean military and civilians. The provocations have been strongly criticized and frustrate the international community. Upcoming elections in South Korea for 2012*** are expected to be won by the left wing party, which avoids conflicts and could again supply unconditional aid to North Korea. This would in fact reward North Korea’s behavior and proof their smart strategies.
In case of the current claims, it is not a secret that North Korea did supply Syria, Iran and others with Missile technology, though according to a German report in “Die Welt”, Syria built a secret missile assembly with the help of North Korea and Iran. The issue about nuclear weapons is less clear. North Korea did provide the basis for Syria’s plutonium production reactor at Al Kibar, which in fact was bombed by Israel in 2007 who wants to maintain their nuclear monopole within the Middle East. Whether more nuclear technology has been in the pipeline or not is doubted.
Many people also speculate that North Korea had offered nuclear assistance to Burma. Their strong military relationship has apparently been extended to the missile field. So far it was only found that Burma has been exploring various nuclear technologies that are weapon related. With Burma’s pro-democratic movement it has to be awaited whether Burma will sustain this program or chooses to admit to the international community what has been going on.
Concluding, the International community is increasingly concerned about the upcoming power transfer and the likelihood that Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) might enter the black market. North Korea’s nuclear program and missiles are one of the only governmental achievements and not likely to be given up. Except for China the international community lacks influence and already activated think tanks for possible military scenarios. In fact, North Korea’s huge military army and poor infrastructure have so far avoided invasion. North Korea holds their future in their own hands.