Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Ask a Korean! News: Nuclear Weapon and Two Prescriptions

The Korean does not know a better place to read about North Korea than Nambuk Story by Mr. Joo Seong-Ha, whom the Korean has pimped several times already. Here is Mr. Joo's reaction to the most recent nuclear testing by North Korea, translated by the Korean.

North Korea Had a Stroke: Nuclear Weapon and Two Prescriptions

All kinds of analyses are available since North Korea has tested nuclear weapon, and I will offer my opinion. This is my personal view with respect to this nuclear test.

Effectless Sanctions against North Korea

UN Security Council is abuzz with the talks of sanctions against North Korea. Tomorrow's paper will offer more detail [the Korean's note: this post is dated 5/26/09], but it will be a merely symbolic action that will not offer any tangible result. In fact, the subject of the sanctions is not afraid of such sanctions, as North Korea has lived through several decades of sanctions.

Like the way South Korea's stock market has learned enough not to waiver in the face of North Korea's nuclear testing, North Korea would have anticipated the sanctions regime after the nuclear testing. The learning effect applies equally to North Korea, which has experienced the blockade of Banco Delta Asia. It would have already prepared sufficient measures against various possible situations.

United Nations or the United States are taking action so as not to appear to be doing nothing and also in order to prevent other countries from copying North Korea's action, but from North Korea's perspective such actions are laughable as they do not produce any tangible result.

North Korea's Rotting Core

The greatest danger to North Korea comes from inside. To compare to a person, the North Korean regime is like an intensive care patient. North Korea of yesteryear demonstrated the scary uniformity geared toward a singular goal, created as a result of nationwide brainwashing.

Such uniformity is no more. After the serious economic troubles since 1995, the people began to distrust the regime to the extent that now even the middle-ranking officials do not trust the regime. Those officials now think, "This regime will be gone sooner or later, so the most important thing is to look out for myself and earn as much as I can." The North Korean people living inside the regime most clearly know that the talks of Strong Nation by 2012 are no more than an impossible hot air.

Nowadays the orders from the central government have stopped working. Just from this year, there was an order prohibiting marketplaces in April and individually owned farming plots in May, but neither has been implemented to any degree. Order from the central regime is nothing but an excuse for fattening the coffers of officials, as they use them to collect bribes.

Again comparing to a person, previously there was only a paralysis in the extremities (the people), but now there is a paralysis in the central nervous system (the middle-ranked officials). Even in this state, the regime somehow barely chugs along thanks to the inertia of the past 60 years.

But this patient with the paralyzed central nervous system now says it will set up a succession structure. A major operation is scheduled in the time of ill health, so to speak. The patient's life is hanging in balance.

Tension as a Gift to North Korea

A patient with a terminal illness has two paths in front of him: either live or die after a major operation, or stay alive as long as he can while taking painkillers before he eventually dies.

For North Korea, the major operation is making a deal with the nuclear weapon as a bargaining chip. Nuclear weapon is everything that destitute North Korea owns. There is no one who easily gives everything one owns, and that includes North Korea.

If North Korea is to give everything it owns, it will give up expecting something huge. I would imagine something to the tune of guaranteeting the regime survival, economic aid (including around $10 billion from Japan following a normalization of relationship, massive economic aid from South Korea, international food aid, etc.) Making this type of exchange and rejuvenating the economy under the China-style reform policy would be equivalent to a major surgery.

North Korea is not worry-free in this exchange. Even if the exchange were successful, there is no guarantee that the regime would survive that major operation.

But even for the other side's perspective, that exchange may prove too costly. Nuclear weapon is not exactly something that can never be tolerated - if that were the case, Kim Jong-Il would have been taken care of. But the situation has come thus far because a decision was made that Kim Jong-Il with nuclear weapon is better than dealing with the subsequent friction with China or the chaos in the Korean Peninsula.

We have to forget about the naive idea that we can exchange something small like light-water reactor with nuclear armament. Something like light-water reactor is but a pill or an injection, not the major operation that North Korea needs. There is no one who spends one's entire fortune to take a pill or receive an injection.

In other words, one side does not want to give up the nuclear weapon for too little, and the other side does not want to pay too much. This is not an easy environment for a deal. Then the patient North Korea, whose central nervous system is becoming paralyzed, must trudge along while taking painkillers.

Problem is that, obviously, even the painkillers are not free. While North Korea of course provides the reason for it, but the United States, Japan and Korea are the providers of the painkillers. U.S., Japan and Korea do not sit tight when North Korea raises the tension through nuclear testing or missile launch. They give a prescription like UN Security Council yada yada, North Korea sanctions etc. etc.

This is a painkiller prescription for North Korea, as it allows to raise the internal tension and impose stricter control over the people by using the external threat as an excuse. Already such fascist control as "the 150-day battle" is being imposed. This acts as a painkiller to the muscle that refuses to take orders.

Once the painkillers like nuclear weapon or missiles wear off, North Korea will further try to create a reason to receive painkillers such as a naval skirmish in the Yellow Sea. From North Korea's perspective, it's not so bad for it to survive for another 10 years or so like this.

Until North Korea dies, South Korea is the one that needs to go through all that trouble for the next 10 years. Each time North Korea needs a painkiller, South Korea will have to deal with its mess. It is a pity.

Internal Dissension within North Korea

But in my view, there is no small conflict on interest between different generations within North Korea. The top leadership ranks of North Korea are all very old - generally over 70 years old.

Because these old foagies will die at around the same time as Kim Jong-Il, they locked in with Kim Jong-Il's steps. At any rate, Kim Jong-Il would have taken care of those old foagies who did not lock in.

These people prefer to endure on painkillers until they die, since they won't have much longer to live anyway. They are the proponents of the hard-line stance of North Korea.

But the younger generation is different, as they have a different day to die from those of the North Korean leadership. They think it is better to take the major operation if there is only about ten years to live. Right now they are silenced because they do not have the core authority, but internally there is much discontent.

But even this younger generation probably would not help South Korea either. Since they are desperate for the operation, they are just as unpredictable as to what they might do if South Korea told them, "No operation is coming."

Greater Risk in No Pre-Announcement

It must be noted that this nuclear testing was conducted without any pre-announcement unlike the first testing. There was a very long prelude before the first nuclear testing. I am personally thankful that this time, I did not have to stay at work until midnight for a whole week. But the problem is this type of action poses a greater risk.

In 2006, the testing came after several days of screaming, "Let me have the operation and nobody gets hurt!" But this time, there was no such preface, getting right into action without any hollering. It looks almost as if they give up on the operation, although one could interpret it as North Korea running out of patience as its core starts rotting in.

In short, North Korea simply decided to increase its holdings without regards to anything else. They must be thinking: "This is the end game. We need to maximize what we have, and there is no need to think about anyone else."

Previously North Korea's attitude was, "This is all I got, so could I please get something out of it? Please?" But now the attitude has changed to, "After all, only a lot of money (assets) can buy the major operation," or "Even if I die, my children need to be protected with more assets." Alternatively, North Korea may have been thinking "I will earn some time to gather assets" already since it conducted a nuclear test in 2006 and participated in the six-party talk.

It is exceedingly difficult to take away entire assets of someone who is totally dedicated to increasing those assets without heeding anything else. In other words, the price that America must pay to have North Korea give up nuclear weapon is rising by the day.

Why the Bomb during a Funeral?

I believe the date for the nuclear testing was already decided when North Korea announced that it will hold the trial for American reporters on June 4. By their calculation, it would have tested the nuke on May 25, American Memorial Day, then would give about a week for the international society to have their chatter. After that chatter, North Korean would show the trial card, asking "Now that you are done talking, what would you do about this?"

But then the funeral [of ex-president Roh] happened in South Korea. The national funeral ends at the 29th. North Korea does care about South Korea's public opinion, but testing on the 29th means they have to use up the reporter trial card while the angry chatter is going on in the world. In other words, North Korea would waste a useful card within the din of post-nuclear test. But postponing the trial just for that would look bad. From its own perspective, North Korea tries to keep its word, although North Korea's interpretation of its word is often different from anyone else's.

My view is that North Korea thought about South Korea for a second, then went ahead with the testing because its plans would be ruined. It is not as if North Korea has enough leeway to care what South Korea at any rate.

Furthermore, North Korea right now playing a game with the U.S., not with South Korea. It must have calculated: "Bush looked like he was going to kill us when we tested nuke, but he ended up taking us off the state sponsor of terrorism list anyway. So what would you do, Obama? Wouldn't you eventually extend a hand?"

I meant to write something short but it ended up being long and rambling. I will conclude by wishing wisdom for our government as it responds to the current situation.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. Thank you for your well written post. I feel smarter just by reading it.

  2. very insightful, thanks for the translation.

    from Joo's article:
    But the situation has come thus far because a decision was made that Kim Jong-Il with nuclear weapon is better than dealing with the subsequent friction with China or the chaos in the Korean Peninsula.

    sums up the surrounding countries strategy (incl the US) of the past 10 years.

  3. Tremendously informative piece, one of the best things I've read about the current mindset of the North Korean people.

    Thanks for translating.

    @LiberateLaura Twitter page

  4. I've learned something new and important today, thank you.

  5. much thx for translating


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