The past six months we witnessed an escalation of events concerning threats between North and South Korea. In December 2012, North Korea decided to launch an “artificial satellite” into space.
By Christos Spanomichos, Junior Scholar, Strategy International.*
The outcome of this launch was that Pyongyang was able to launch a rocket into the moon. Yet, this action, caused significant damage in North’s Korea’s relations with its neighbor states, such as South Korea, Japan and even China, a traditional ally which is bound by a pact to assist N. Korea in case of a military aggression from any state.
South Korea asked the United Nation’s Council to intervene and seek a solution. North Korea claimed that the United States were behind this action and through the National Defense Commission of North Korea (DPRK) stated that, “We do not hide that we will launch a series of satellites and long range rockets and carry out nuclear tests in the next higher level new phase of the struggle against the United States, the sworn enemy of the Korean People”. This direct threat was imposed by a state, against the U.S.A followed by the use of ballistic missiles able to hit in American territory.
The escalation of crisis from that point on moved to the next level. North Korea’s relationship with the U.S.A changed into direct threats of using nuclear missiles and targeting American territory (Alaska). Those direct threats were made under the supervision of Kim Jong-un, the new supreme leader of Worker’s part of Korea, and president of the state.
At this point a reference to Kim Jong-un is needed. He is the third (3rd) son of Kim Jong-il and successor to its position. Unlike its father, he is not that eccentric, and he is way more open-minded. He is not trying to inspire its people, solely by tricks, pure propaganda, by targeting on the superiority of the “leader’s position” and by focusing on his personal image and domination. Instead, he prefers to adopt a different approach. In order to understand and explain his way of thinking, we should look at his education background the influences he has been exposed to.
Although there are conflicting reports, it is believed that Kim Jong-u studied abroad, in Switzerland, and graduated from Pyongyang’s Kim II-sung university which is a leading-officer training school. These details suggest that has been exposed to western influences until he returned to North Korea to follow the path of his father by studying how to become a leader. Despite that his studies remain a mystery, certain conclusions could be drawn based on the information we have.
To begin with, his studies differentiate him from his father: being in a multicultural, mostly western-type environment, gave him new perspectives. Additionally, his relationship with North Korea’s educational system, which is known for its role in the submission of citizens on state’s leader wishes, was limited to his university years. Therefore it is easier to assume that, his exposure to that system, was reduced only to the extent of learning how to “lead”.
Undoubtedly, the strong personality of his father was never a good example for him. Their relationship could be characterized as a merely patronized relationship between a father and a son. His father’s absence in the early stages of his life gave him a chance to see him as a hero – a model, which is a reasonable bond between father and son, but not to the extent of prototype since Kim Jong-un seems “to be modeling himself on his grandfather, Kim Sung il, who is more revered inside the country than the recently departed Kim Jong-il”.
Finally, his university studies, suggest that he acquired the knowledge of how to become a leader and a successor. Though we may not be sure about the extent to which he has put his studies into practice, we can understand that the way he acts has little to do with his father’s actions.
North Korea, so far made a variety of threats. They started from threatening that they will invade South Korea, followed with the threat of use of nuclear weapons against the U.S.A, or any other state that is in reach of their ballistic missiles (such as Japan). Many experts were of the belief that an imminent launch would happen the “Day of the Sun”, the day Kim-il Sung, the founder of North Korea was born. However North Korea, contrary to those beliefs, celebrated the day by a festival of flowers named after Kim, instead of the traditional military parade. It seems so far that North Korea is trying to become as much unpredictable as it can. As Sung-Youn Lee said, North Korea “is very adept in psychological warfare”. So far it seems that threats are a part of this psychological warfare making it difficult to predict. However it seems that, all those actions were a pre-text for the then upcoming negotiation between North Korea and U.S.A.
Geopolitically speaking, North Korea is an isolated state in the Korea peninsula and one of the last survivors of the communist bloc, an ally of both Russia and China, and it claims the union of the peninsula under Pyongyang’s orders. On the other hand, South Korea is an industrialized nation which is inferior in army capabilities to North Korea, but more economically advanced.
Today, North Korea is one of the last politically isolated places in the world. Its leader understands that this cannot stand for much longer since even his traditional allies have adopted new political and economic policies. The relative prosperity that followed these policies in Russia and China will likely threaten his state due to the high level of poverty of its citizens. Will we witness North Korea’s fall due to social instability just like in the USSR?
It seems that this is something to be expected sooner or later; at that point Kim Jong-un, or a successor of his, would have to decide whether he loses control and power or be overthrown, by his citizens. No matter how hard the propaganda, it will be next to impossible to totally neutralize any upcoming change on the social network of the state.
The ancient Latins used to say Cui bono, (who benefits?). Who would benefit after a possible social unrest?
It seems that this crisis is a rather economic than political issue. North Korea asks for investors to come and invest in its territories; however their leader tries to set the rules of those investments. It seems that he prefers to follows Vietnam’s model, in which specific companies were chosen as investors, rather than China’s.
This crisis is just a pretext to set his rules once North Korea will change its economic status. The use of nuclear missiles cannot bring solutions and this is something that China might emphasize to North Korea. Therefore it is obvious that the goals of these threats go beyond military confrontation: the North Koreans are now using the propaganda in an extreme form to try to damage foreign direct investments into South Korea,” says Tom Coyner. By damaging South Korea’s already globalized economy North Korea renders the Chinese economy exposed since, as it was pointed out, “Fitch Ratings has affirmed China’s Long-Term Foreign Currency Issuer Default Rating (IDR) at ‘A+’ and downgraded the Long-Term Local Currency IDR to ‘A+’ from ‘AA-‘. The Outlook is Stable”, and North’s Koreans threats were pointed out as a reason of this downgrading.
Summing up, it is my belief that all those actions that took place are a declaration of power over investors rather than states themselves. It seems that North Korea wants an economic equalization with South Korea. To put it simply, North Korea seems to want to limit, or even better to eliminate, the economic advantage that the, already globalized, economy of South Korea has.
*Christos Spanomichos, graduated from University of Piraeus, with a bachelor in International and European Studies in 2009. He was an associate, in South and East European Development Centre (SEED Centre) of the Department of Planning and Regional Development of University of Thessaly, in Greece participating in several E.U. Policy based projects. He participated, as an expert, in International and European Policy in fields of Energy, in the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Patrai. He had his LLM degree in Glasgow’s University focusing, among the rest, in International Disputes Settlement and Foundations of International Law.