[Korea Times] Defector explains North Korea’s nuclear obsession

North Korea may not want to use nuclear weapons, but it will never give them up. Korea Times file

If there is one thing that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un will never do, it is “complete denuclearization,” according to Thae Yong-ho, a former North Korean diplomat who defected to South Korea.

After Kim promised to give up nuclear weapons last week at his meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore, you may feel inclined to trust Kim. But if you understand what the weapons really has meant to the regime’s 70-year dictatorship, you are more likely to agree with Thae.

Thae was a former deputy ambassador at the North Korean Embassy in London before taking asylum in South Korea in the summer of 2016 with his wife and two sons.

The defector’s book, “Cryptography from the Third-Floor Secretariat,” which was published last month, explains the history of North Korea’s efforts to become a nuclear power and what is behind the ambition.

According to the book, Kim Il-sung, founder of North Korea and grandfather of Kim Jong-un, its current leader, began obsessing about developing nuclear arsenals during the Korean War.

After mass Chinese forces entered the war in October 1950 to back up North Korea against United Nations forces, rumors began to swirl that the U.S. was going to drop an atomic bomb on its enemies. Kim did not believe them, but many of his people were terrified at the possibility and joined the people fleeing to the South.

Thae writes, “They said, ‘Once the United States drops the bomb, we’re all going to die.’ Kim could not do anything about it. He urged them not to leave, saying the United States ‘would never be able to use nuclear bombs.’ But no one listened. After losing control of his people, he realized the tremendous psychological power of having nuclear weapons.”

But Kim’s grand plan to develop nuclear weapons immediately faced fierce oppositions from its two most important allies ― the Soviet Union (USSR) and China. USSR leaders obviously wanted their country to monopolize the weapons as the leader of communist states.

Chinese leaders also warned Kim not to take the nuclear path, saying it would destroy North Korea’s diplomatic relations and economy.

But Kim quietly proceeded to carry out his plan.

 

“Cryptography from the Third-Floor Secretariat” became an instant bestseller. Yonhap

His obsession became stronger after China ditched its old policy and opened its market to foreign investment in the late 1970s to embrace capitalism and the USSR collapsed a decade later.

By then, developing nuclear weapons was no longer a choice for Kim ― it was only way to guarantee his regime’s survival.

The U.S. sensed what was on his mind and tried to put a brake on his progress. But Kim and his son Jong-il used all means possible ― diplomatic and sometimes blatant lies ― to earn the time and money they needed.

For instance, former President Bill Clinton secured a deal whereby Kim Jong-il agreed to stop producing raw material for nuclear bombs in exchange for a huge injection of aid in 1994. But as planned, Kim took the money and technical help and started cheating.

Many people hope that Kim Jong-un, who was educated overseas, will be different, especially after his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, in which Kim pledged to give up nuclear weapons.

Thae hopes the same ― until he realized that the latest North Korean leader needs nuclear weapons as much as his father and grandfather did.

After taking power in 2012, Kim tried to modernize the military, the bedrock of his authority.

“But soon he realized that the military system was crumbing badly. Weapons were too old and worn down,” Thae writes. “He knows it will be difficult to stay in power if he gives up nuclear weapons.”

Given how important nuclear weapons have been to the Kim family, Thae thinks North Korea will never abandon them ― no matter what Kim says officially.

“According to North Korea’s 2013 long-term plan, 2018 was supposed to be a year of peace, which it needs to be recognized as a de facto nuclear power by the international community,” Thae writes.

“North Korea is trying to follow the footsteps of India and Pakistan … If there is one thing I know for sure, it is that North Korea was and is obsessed with having nuclear weapons and will continue to be so.”

Source: Jung Min-ho Korea Times