A seminar for North Korea Experts, September 2017
After the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2375 was adopted in response to North Korea’s Sixth Nuclear Test, North Korea rebutted with the launch of a Hwasong-12 missile on September 15, 2017.
After this missile launch, Kim Jong-un stated that as North Korea’s goal of completing its nuclear force had “nearly reached the terminal, all the nation’s resources and power will be used to see the end” and he also confidently stated that North Korea’s final goal “is to establish the equilibrium of real force with the U.S.”
With disappointment surrounding the effectiveness of the UN Resolution 2375 and North Korea’s missile launch, the UN Security Council was unable to adopt any new sanctions and could only respond with a condemning statement. In comparison to North Korea’s Sixth Nuclear Test, the responses for this missile launch were much more understated.
Of course, it is true that Sanctions 2375 are not powerful enough to stop Kim Jong-un and his spiral of nuclear development.
However, when we consider China and Russia, who until now have constantly protected North Korea, it can seen to be a win.
2. An Evaluation of UN Sanction Resolution 2375
In general, the bright side of this sanction was that China and Russia participated in cornering North Korea.
Until now the supply of oil to North Korea was seen to be a major obstacle in the sanctions on North Korea.
The opportunity has arrived for us to start the breakdown of this obstacle and we should continue to break it down completely.
If it is not possible to catch the beast in one go, the other option is to corner the beast so that it cannot come out until it slowly chokes.
If these sanctions are put into place at the same time as the US’ independent secondary boycotts, then there is no way that it cannot be a huge blow on the North Korean economy.
While it may seem like a light sanction, if these sanctions and other forms of pressure continue then it will stir up a reaction within North Korea and eventually create a situation in which North Korea has no choice but to give up its nuclear weapons.
Kim Jong-un has been arrogantly proclaiming that the “final victory is in front of [North Korea] and that [North Korea] has finally reached the final point.”
Looking at the style of language, it is likely that North Korea will declare the completion of its nuclear forces within a few months.
3. Points we must consider for the future
3.1. We should not have too many expectations on the current sanctions
For decades, North Korea has continued to evolve its ways of survival under US sanctions. As a result, the North Korean regime and its residents have become immune to sanctions, and they have prepared strategy supplies that can last for another two to three years.
North Korea can hold on at least until it declares the completion of its nuclear weapons.
- As for food– harvest season is fast approaching and so there will be enough food until spring in April or May 2018.
In order to survive these sanctions, North Korea will store the rice this year in its military storage units and distribute the out-of-date rice to the North Korean people.
Even when I was in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we were provided with mouldy rice- so many officials would exchange their inedible rice for white rice on the markets. There had been a time in May 2012 when there was not enough rice so Kim Jong-un gave a Supreme Command order to release 10 tons of military rice to stop any grievances rising amongst the people.
- The military has stocked enough oil needed for war.
- As for the people– elite state officials in Pyongyang and other areas have enough US dollars to survive at least 2 or 3 years.
When foreign officials return from overseas after working 3 years, they have enough foreign currency to sustain themselves in North Korea for at least 3 to 5 years.
Even though the sanctions for North Korea have strengthened and the source of foreign currency has sharply decreased, there haven’t been any great fluctuations in the exchange rate of North Korean currency to US dollars in the market. This is because the North Korean people always exchange the necessary amount of North Korean currency for foreign currency every day.
It will take at least two years for the effects of the sanctions to become visible.
Even if the North Korean economy takes a huge hit from these sanctions, it is likely that Kim Jong-un will release crude oil and war resources in order to show the outside world any suffering.
3.2. In order to maximize the effect of the sanctions and reassure the United States, China and Russia probably inflated the figures regarding the export volume of oil and import of North Korean products in their reports.
The United States has been saying that because of these sanctions, China’s supply of crude oil to North Korea has dropped to one-third of its previous level to 500,000 tons, but in fact North Korea is a country that can survive by importing 500,000 tons.
3.3. The sanctions will not stop North Korea in its spiral of nuclear development, but the psychological burden on the North’s elite and its population will be tremendous.
Nuclear weapons and ICBM are not a source of food.
Right now, North Korea is holding festivities to encourage the North Korean people.
However, in the face of the international community tightening sanctions and penalties on North Korea, the North Korean elite are worried about whether the bright future that Kim Jong-un talks about, will ever come.
4. A prediction of North Korea’s next actions
I predict that Kim Jong-un’s current 4-step roadmap is as follows:
4.1. He will continue to head towards the ultimate goal of nuclear completion.
After North Korea’s Sixth Nuclear Test and Missile Tests, it reported that the final destination for the completion of the nuclear armed forces was almost complete, opening the possibility of additional nuclear tests and ICBM experiments.
If Kim Jong-un comes to the conclusion that nuclear and ICBM have not been completed, he is the type of person to demand additional nuclear tests and ICBM for verification.
Even if false reports are attempted to be made, as people can be put on military trial, it is not possible for the Party’s arms industry to bring an incomplete product to Kim Jong-un and tell him that it has been completed.
North Korea’s ICBM, Hwasong-14, which has already been launched twice, has not yet been launched at the necessary angles (30-45 degrees), and there are also key technological elements that need to be verified such as in the correct atmosphere.
North Korea also needs to test its submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) called ‘Polaris-3’, which is being developed for to attack South Korea.
Kim Jong-un, however, knows that it is hard for North Korea to endure the sanctions for a long time, and will have a plan to return to the negotiation table in 2018 after completing nuclear and missile tests by the end of 2017.
4.2. When Kim Jong-un sees the completion of nuclear development, North Korea will ask the US to suspend and freeze its military exercises and disarm sanctions, while entering dialogue with South Korea in order to improve inter-Korean relations.
In the end, the United States and South Korea will have to make a decision. Either they will have to recognize North Korea’s status as a nuclear power and go in a direction of “nuclear crisis management” to stop further provocations, or it will have to expand sanctions until the Kim Jong-un regime collapses, North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons and missiles and the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula is finally solved.
4.3. If the US and South Korea fail to comply with Kim Jong-un‘s request to recognize North Korea as a nuclear power state, then Kim Jong-un will have to use the armed forces as a way of constructing peace through the motto of ‘Self-Defense’ and work towards economic revival
The only way for Kim Jong-un to continue the hereditary leadership of the Kim Family is to reduce North Korea’s arms and work on the development of peace.
North Korea has the systematic structure that can mobilise its free labour force. However, currently the young labour force is tied to the military and are dedicated to the nuclear and military ‘security pillar.’ Thus, Kim Jong-un has calculated that if the resources for the military and the people are used for the development of peace- then North Korea will be able to survive in the midst of the sanctions.
In the 2017 New Year Address, Kim Jong-un promised the North Korean people that the development of nuclear and missiles will be completed so that North Korea can return to the 1960’s when people used to sing the song “We have nothing to envy in the world.”
4.4. Kim Jong-un is probably considering faking his way out using the framework of ‘Freeze-Trust Building-Denuclearization’ that was used in the 1994 Geneva Agreed Framework.
At present, if North Korea completes its nuclear and ICBM development and stays quietly put for 10 years like India and Pakistan, then North Korea will be untouchable as a nuclear state; and the US and South Korea will have no option but to skip over the freezing stage and go over to nuclear disarmament.
First, North Korea will build a freeze vs. sanction lift framework in order to set a period of five years when trust can be built.
During this period, North Korea will use the principles of ‘Actions for Actions’, where first North Korea will show the necessary steps to show the dissembling of nuclear facilities in order to show nuclear disarmament. In return, North Korea will demand that the United States and South Korea lift their sanctions.
In other words, North Korea is going to use the principle of ‘Actions for Actions’ as a measure to build trust.
According to North Korea’s plan, it will include nuclear facilities that are already old and need to be dissembled and dissemble them one by one over five years, while the US and South Korea also lift their sanctions one by one and return to the standards of the period before 2006.
The problem is that when North Korea recovers economically through the lifting of sanctions, it will have already dismantled USA’s hostile policies and destroyed the nuclear agreement.
By this time, the US and South Korea will have already peacefully coexisted with a nuclear North Korea for five years, and so the public will oppose the use of strong sanctions or military actions against North Korea.
5. The Significance, Time and Effects of North Korea’s Nuclear Completion
5.1. The significance of achieving nuclear weapons
Nuclear completion for North Korea is the completion of ICBMs with nuclear weapons capable of hitting the US mainland.
For North Korea, without having nuclear weapons that are capable of striking US mainland, it thinks that it will not be able to draw any concessions from the United States in the next round of negotiations.
North Korea considers the strategic nuclear armed forces in China to be a decisive factor in the USA’ decision to break relations with Taiwan in 1979 and the possession of nuclear forces will be a decisive factor for the withdrawal of US forces in South Korea.
5.2. Time of Nuclear Completion
There is room for discussion as to when North Korea will actually complete its nuclear development.
It is true that significant technological progress has been made in a short space of time after Kim Jong-un rose to power.
However, the technological progress that North Korea has shown so far was actually achieved a long time ago and is now just being sped up.
North Korea will not be able to sustain this speed in its development.
At the end of the day, North Korea needs more time until it completes its nuclear weapons and North Korea is likely to ease tensions in 2018 in order to buy this time.
Kim Jong-un is well aware that whether it is nuclear compromise or improvement inter-Korean relations, it needs to be solved during the Moon Jae-in administration.
Kim Jong-un knows that if he is able to compromise with the South Korean government while Moon Jae-in is in office, it will be two or three years until North Korea is able to get something from South Korea.
5.3. The effects of completing nuclear development (Changes in security and the position of neighbouring countries)
Currently the US and South Korea are marking a new ‘red-line’ and North Korea has already moved over to a place that it can not turn back from
China and Russia have already recognised North Korea as a nuclear-armed state.
While the neighbouring countries always say that they are unable to accept North Korea as a nuclear state, they already treat North Korea as if it is.
Despite the fact that North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests over the past ten years, but absolute sanctions have not been enacted, shows that in reality, North Korea is being accepted as a nuclear state by its neighbouring countries.
If the US had any intention of blocking North Korea as a nuclear state, as it did with Cuba during the Caribbean Crisis, then it would have entered a complete blockade, including a naval blockade.
It can be interpreted that the US has drawn a new type of ‘Acheson Line’ in which as long as North Korea does not attack US territory it will accept North Korea as a nuclear state.
In the media, the completement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons is always seen as a “game changer” that will destroy the military balance of Northeast Asia. However, the military balance has already broken down on the Korean Peninsula. What remains is the question of how to restore the balance of fear.
In a situation where the Sixth Nuclear Test and other Missile Tests have just been conducted public opinion is hostile, after a while South Korea and Northeast Asia will become immune to the fact that North Korea is a nuclear state.