Korea–A true peace?

North Korea and the United States are seen to be technically at peace today; however, there have been several concerns about potential nuclear war that several countries take seriously because of assumptions about North Korea’s military capacities. For example, in 2009, North Korea threatened to retaliate with a nuclear war against any sanctions implemented by the resolution of the UN Security Council. North Korea clearly uses these threats as a strategy to force other countries onto the path that they desire. This means that they have certain expectations about their inherent right and that they would do whatever it takes to make others aware of their “feelings.” North Korea wants the world to see its nuclear capacities in order to fortify its reputation. Many see North Korea as a poor state that does not even adequately feed its own people, so the fact that they can have functionable nuclear power is almost surprising. As Victor Cha writes, “like the poor student who rushes to finish the exams before the time runs out, Kim Jong-il races against the geriatric table to achieve the minimum for his son, rather than the maximum for his legacy.” With the current US policy toward North Korea, Obama has positioned the US well both for the generation track and the sanction track. The United States does not have a hostile policy toward North Korea, but it does have a hostile policy toward its nuclear weapons. However, North Korea is still seeking a written commitment from the United States that clearly states that the US will not attack North Korea at anytime.

North Korea is often described by many as a small, paranoid, attention-seeking state that still manages to be quite concerning. Negotiating with North Korea is very contradicting, since what might be important one day might not even matter the next. North Korea constantly threatens the US especially as a means to remind other nations that they are still present and are progressing toward their main goal of establishing themselves as a nuclear power. By having nuclear power, North Korea would be in a more powerful position to negotiate with the US and South Korea. They view nuclear weapons as the only way to insure themselves against U.S. aggression.

North Korea sees the US’s assurances to not declare war as meaningless mainly because there is not a piece of paper that guarantees security; this is called a negative security assurance because even though the US clearly does not want a war, it could change its mind if it prefers to. North Korea has indeed tried to initiate open talks with the US, hoping to gain the US`s full attention by drawing Washington into bilateral talks. In exchange for a freeze of North Korea’s nuclear policies, the US has promised to assist them with their energy and economic programs. But as previously noted, North Korea’s signals change all the time, making their constant provocative signals increasingly difficult to be rationalized as just an attempt to engage the US. In the sense of external transparency, the US is left wondering what sort of intentions does the nuclearization signals; this creates a sense of threat. Centralized authority and a lack of transparency deprive outsiders of information about intentions and limit opportunities for access.

Within international relations, diplomats often use the Ockham’s razor to justify the behaviour of both countries and individuals. This theory explains that the best explanations are often the simplest. This can be true to a certain extent. Politicians typically simplify matters in order to understand them, but this can only solve some of the issues. Often, problems have many layers that cannot all be seen or understood, so theories can only attempt to understand a minimum.  Many argue that the Pyongyang seeks nuclear power only because there are no better deals out there offering them food, energy, and a new relationship with the international community. The problem with this logic is that Kim Jong-il has been offered such a deal twice before with no positive results. Consequently, it is increasingly clear that North Korea ultimately wants a deal that does not require their full denuclearization as a security bargain. The question still remains the same: should the United States simply accept the fact that North Korea is a nuclear state the same way the US accepted it with Pakistan and India, or should they consider North Korea’s situation incomparable to these two other states. Kim Jong-il left his son with a regime that has neither improved economically nor gained an ounce of international goodwill to help it out of its current state. The other challenge the US will have to face is to keep the Chinese government honest about their position within this situation; failure of agreements could mean the failure of the Six-Party Talks and precipitate yet another crisis. The US’s flexibility with North Korea could be seen in two different ways: either as reasonableness to reach successful negotiations or as the inability to oppose North Korea’s misbehaviour.