Privation may be the ultimate prop of the Pyongyang regimeEvery other Monday, Ko Soo-suk, a North Korea expert at the JoongAng Ilbo Unification Research Center, provides an in-depth look at one of the most reclusive nations on the planet. The analyses are based on the senior journalist’s two decades of reporting on North Korea. -Ed.
Washington’s frustration over North Korea was probably best put in the words of Robert Gates, former secretary of defense and director of the Central Intelligence Agency, who described the country as a “black hole” and the “toughest intelligence target in the world.”
For decades, the world’s greatest superpower has struggled to rein in the tiny but mercurial regime, which analysts say can now hit the mainland United States with intercontinental ballistic missiles. North Korea’s tenacity can be traced to the early 20th century, when Kim Il Sung joined guerilla groups fighting the Japanese imperial army. He later founded the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1948 and began rebuilding the country following the 1950-53 Korean War.
Kim used those experiences to spread the perception that North Korea can thrive on its own, without depending on any other nation, known in Korean as Juche, and in economic terms, ja-ryeok-gaeng-saeng. The core ideology was passed down from generation to generation, enabling today’s leader, Kim Jong-un, Kim Il Sung’s grandson, to be bold enough to threaten the United States with an “operational plan” to fire four ballistic missiles near the U.S. territory of Guam.
Ironically, perhaps one way the United States can control the North is by making it a "satisfied pig" rather than a "dissatisfied human being," as the old saying goes. When former right-leaning President Lee Myung-bak introduced his North Korea policy in 2008, which included denuclearization, opening up North Korean borders and helping it achieve a per capita GDP of $3,000, North Korean officials later admitted that the most threatening part to the regime was Lee’s drive to help its people economically thrive. When ordinary North Koreans get strangled by more sanctions, they blame the United States, not their own government. Filling their coffers could enable them to think twice about the regime and yearn for yet more economic freedom.
The United States once thought it could scare North Korea off with its strategic bombers and nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, but that idea was proven wrong in the 1968 Pueblo crisis and the 1976 axe murder incident.
An excerpt from Chinese general Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” says, “For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.” The U.S. State Department recently said that it was still open for talks with North Korea as long as the country halts all nuclear and ballistic missile tests and destabilizing activities. The offer will prove more fruitful than the “fire and fury” menace hurled by President Donald Trump.
BY KO SOO-SUK, LEE SUNG-EUN [email@example.com]