North Korea: An Underestimated Smart Rookie    

Samuel Gao

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The leadership of North Korea has always been a mystery to many, the exact age of its leader is even unknown. But yet, North Korea garners a lot of international attention, both for its extremely poor human rights record and for its aggressive stance against the United States. North Korea has been accused of making its military developments, especially the nuclear missiles, more of a priority than securing the basic needs of its people. As a result, North Korea has faced sanctions from all across the board, and many ponder why a country like North Korea would want to put itself into such a position. In my opinion, because of previous administration faults and its current isolation, North Korea has no other choice; developing nuclear weapons is its only way of survival. Unless North Korea can pose a serious threat to other nations, it sees itself as another defenseless country on the map to foreign powers.

        Let us trace back into history a little bit. After the end of the second World War, the United States and the Soviet Union became the world superpowers. Because of their different political ideologies and their desire for influence, they started to engage in many “races” all across the spectrum, from sports to space. But most importantly, it was the military competition that coined the term “Cold War” for that era. Within a few years of the end of WWII, the Soviet Union developed its own nuclear weapons, and from then on, there was a gigantic military competition.

        Interestingly, it was this gigantic military competition that made the Cold War stay as a cold war, instead of a full arms-on conflict. Imagine if the United States and the Soviet Union went to war with each other with their all their military might. They can probably blow up Earth twenty times! North Korea understands this too.

        North Korea is placed in a tricky part of the world. Its main borders are shared with China and South Korea (and a tiny piece is shared with Russia). The reason China is so supportive of North Korea is simply because China is scared of the United States military. If the South Koreans take over North Korea and unite the two, it will almost be certain that the American troops stationed in South Korea will be moved to the border with China. This is why North Korea is seen as a “buffer” between the two superpowers. But China has its own headache too. Since North Korea is so close to it, it can use its military power as a move against China. If China one day decides to pull away its support for North Korea, these two countries may very well on the path to a war too.

        This is why both China and the United States don’t want North Korea to have nuclear weapons. It is a threat to both major powers. The US knows that if it actually goes to war with North Korea, it can easily win with its superb military technology. But the thought of the West Coast being bombed by North Korean nuclear missiles is an unsettling image, so that is why (as in the case of the Soviet Union and the USA, explained above), they would rather not engage in full conflict.

I believe North Korea understands all these perspectives, and that is why they have been so stubborn in its pursuit of nuclear weapons. North Korea has been pushed onto the edge of a cliff by many foreign powers, and this is its way of trying to fight back. It knows that although South Korea does not have any nuclear missiles, the presence of the American military is still a gigantic threat. North Korea sees itself still as an enemy of the United States, as the Korean War has not officially ended. With these positions in mind, it seems logical for North Korea to be more risky and ambitious with its military operations.

        Donald Trump called Kim Jong-un “little rocket man” at the UN General Assembly. But in my opinion, North Korea is a genius. It is as if one is playing chess, and only has one power piece left, but uses it masterfully that it can prolong its career for a long time. North Korea knows that after years of famine and mismanagement, its economy might take long to recover; and international criticism for its human rights record will never stop.  That is why they put their focus on the military. No matter what the sanctions do, no matter what world leaders say, no matter how insane people think Kim Jong-un may be, North Korea kept its agenda. If North Korea bowed down to sanctions and actually abandoned their programs, they might be seen as weak and predictable. What North Korea wants is the direct opposite-unpredictability and strength. And you think that they really wanted to pursue peace at the beginning of this year? Perhaps. But in my opinion, it merely has its spine straightened out by its military weapon developments. Now, it can be much more assertive and demanding on the negotiation table, from easing sanctions and asking for investments. Perhaps, now is its chance to finally pull the economy out of the Mariana Trench, and become an even more important player in the modern world.