North Korea: Nuclear Delusions
Developed countries are dumbfounded to think a country as poor as North Korea, a country with a starving population and massive international sanctions against it would invest so much time and money into becoming a nuclear power. The decision seems irrational, unless you live in an unconventional country such as North Korea which has never been accused of being rational.
North Korea invests resources into an elite group experienced in cyber-crime for government profit. This group has pilfered technology from South Korea and others. It has infiltrated and pilfered electronic banking institutions in other countries and siphoned off Bit-coin transactions. Stealing technology allows North Korea to progress more quickly than it would have been able to do on its own and the cost of research and development decreases drastically. Siphoning off money from others, also helps defray the cost of production.
North Korea, nonetheless, has invested a substantial portion of its estimated 28.4-billion-dollar economy. “South Korean government analysis has put North Korea’s nuclear spending at $1.1 billion to $3.2 billion overall, although experts say it is impossible to make an accurate calculation given the secrecy surrounding the program, and estimates vary widely.” (Pearson, J. 2016) North Korea has developed a nuclear weapons program despite poverty and international sanctions, using home-grown and stolen technology and virtually free labor to cut costs.
“North Korea also boasts a booming unofficial market economy, driven by private trade that has flourished since the devastating famine of the 1990s, giving the state a relatively new source of foreign currency.” (Pearson, J. 2016) The Government has been unable to shut down these markets which collectively are estimated to produce counter-economy in excess of the government itself. The regime has taken to taxing these illegal businesses, arresting the wealthiest profiteers, and seizing assets from the very wealthy people involved.
Are North Korea's weapons a real threat or just a negotiation tactic?
“A former South Korean official involved in nuclear diplomacy with North Korea told Reuters previously that it was likely the North’s nuclear program was cutting corners on safety, further driving down costs.” (Pearson, J. 2016) Adhering to proper safety measures would have added exponentially to the overall cost.
North Korea has resorted to a variety of schemes to secure hard currency including counterfeiting, selling missile parts to rogue nations in the Middle East, and exporting cheap labor abroad to places as distant as Poland.
Even if North Korea chooses to dismantle its nuclear program, it will retain the knowledge needed to rebuild. It now has advanced technological plans for weaponry, missiles and nuclear weapons which could provide North Korea with an abundance of wealth should it decide to sell its information about those technologies to other rogue nations and even terrorist groups. It already has collaborative relationships with Pakistan, Iran and Brazil.
Historically North Korea has threatened its neighbors as a negotiation tactic to receive more aid. Until now, it posed little threat to its neighbors and appeasement was used as a diplomatic tool to decrease tensions with the North. Threats from a nuclear armed North Korea would have to be taken seriously.
What will it take to get rid of North Korea's nuclear weapons?
The North is acutely aware that when Libya (voluntarily surrendered), Iraq (facilities destroyed by Israel), and Syria (facilities destroyed by Israel) lost their nuclear development programs, they were invaded. At the same time, Iran’s refusal to give up its nuclear program resulted in an influx of money and the lifting of sanctions. The North believes investing in nuclear weapons is a way to stave off any possible invasion. This paranoid fear of invasion dates to the Korean War. Although it was the North who initially invaded the South, the U.S. and South Koreans went beyond the mandate to liberate South Korea and pushed the war well into North Korean territory. The fate of Libya and Iraq after they surrendered nuclear ambitions fortifies these fears.
North Korea may be protecting itself from invasion by flaunting its nuclear capabilities or it may be hoping for a cash windfall like what befell Iran. North Korea is used to bullying its way into receiving concessions from others and may be hedging its bet that, as in the past, aggression will be met with appeasement.
President Trump, however, is not a career politician and has spoken out against the appeasement of past U.S. Presidents. He has invested in a show of strength that must have North Korea questioning its redundant strategy. Both sides have a great deal to lose if diplomatic attempts become exhausted.
Pictures used in this article are public domain
Pearson, James. “North Korea Overcomes Poverty, Sanctions with Cut-Price Nukes.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 11 Jan. 2016, www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-nuclear-money-idUSKCN0UP1G820160111.