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North Korea’s Nuclear Mindset: Why Nukes Still Matter

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North Korea has evolved from a weakened country to one seen as a legitimate global military power due to its acquisition of nuclear weapons. Although, strength is a key factor behind its establishment of a nuclear program, there are other reasons that expand beyond the typical perception surrounding North Korea. There are four main reasons that North Korea immersed itself into the acquisition of a nuclear program.

The first was the desire to bring the US back to the negotiating table. “Pyongyang was effectively sending the message that the DPRK wanted finally to achieve results in its relations with the US. More specifically, North Korea has sought bilateral negotiations with the US, stipulating that progress on denuclearization would be contingent upon improved relations with the US – including economic aid, the end of sanctions, diplomatic relations with the US, and a peace treaty to end the Korean War” (Kim, 2011, 348). The benefits of super powers supporting and providing aid to North Korea would only be obtainable by recreating dialogue. However, North Korea would not eliminate its new position of military strength first in order to obtain it.

The second reason is the perception by North Korea of open hostility toward it by the United States. The belief is that the United States is trying to tear down the North Korean government and impact its internal decisions by causing disruption and chaos within the regime. The challenges implemented by the US government via sanctions and propaganda have the potential to not just undermine the planned regional dominance of North Korea but may even threaten the ultimate survival of the governing regime. It was believed that the acquisition of nuclear weapons had the potential to negate this American manipulation and bring it more humbly back to the negotiating table.

The third reason was to create an image to the world that North Korea is a strong and powerful nation that is not to be overlooked or summarily dismissed. Since the signing of the armistice, North Korea has been trying to rebuild its power and prestige standing in the region. Due to its weakened economic status and poor governmental performance, it has been labeled a third world country, far less significant than countries such as the United States, Russia, or China. The actions of the government to establish a nuclear program would begin the changes needed to elevate this status in the eyes of the world, gaining itself respect as a potentially dominant force across Southeast Asia at least.

Finally, the fourth reason is for economic sustenance and rebuilding. With the growth of a nuclear program, North Korea is able to sell nuclear products to countries, such as Pakistan. At this point, North Korea’s ailing economy cannot provide care to its own people. The nuclear program has provided them access to international resources and funds that it was not able to acquire by other means, including aid from other countries which North Korea always say as coming with strings attached and external interference.

For many years North Korea worked to establish a treaty with the United States without the involvement of South Korea. “Pyongyang has always demanded that the United States hold bilateral talks on various issues such as its nuclear program and conclude a peace treaty or non-aggression pact to replace the current armistice agreement, one that excludes the South” (Koh, 2004, 439). From an outside perspective, the actions of North Korea with its nuclear testing program have been to create concern if not outright fear amongst many countries across the Southeast Asian region and beyond, including the United States.

The results and motivation behind the missile test were also a strategic move to bring the United States back to the diplomatic table but with less hubris and more equanimity. By this time, the United States had ceased the talks with North Korea regarding the 1999 U.S.-North Korea moratorium on missile tests. “The 1999 agreement had been worked out under the assumption that the two countries would conduct further talks on the proposal to ban the testing and production of missiles, but the U.S. had indefinitely suspended the talks since 2001, making the moratorium moribund. The missile tests were another display of Pyongyang’s tried-and-true strategy to grab attention for itself and coax Washington into direct diplomacy” (Cho & Woo, 2007, 96). 

Thus, the nuclear actions of North Korea overall are done in order to obtain “U.S. recognition and consequent benefits: acknowledgment of its legitimacy and security interests; Japanese recognition; and substantial economic aid from Japan, multilateral lenders such as the World Bank, and the U.S. itself” (Gurtov, 2002, 405). This allows North Korea access to aid, technology, and many other necessities for survival and growth. North Korea’s focus to reconnect with the United States on its own terms is driven by its perception that the US has willingly opposed agreed-upon treaty and international negotiation frameworks. The North Korean fear is that America does this because it is adamantly opposed to the existence of North Korea as it is currently formulated and governed. “During 2001, senior administration officials had acknowledged that North Korea had upheld its obligations under the Agreed Framework. But the United States now confronted the possibility of a covert fissile material program not covered by the 1994 agreement, thereby enabling Pyongyang to circumvent its declared nonproliferation commitments” (Pollack, 2003, 14). As North Korea has professed, the United States is not willing to create a dialogue between the two countries, but instead find loopholes to disavow any established agreements and then declare it was North Korea’s fault with random accusations.

North Korea feels it must be able to react to the threats posed by the United States. The establishment of a nuclear weapons program provides it with the protection needed. North Korea understands that their military personnel cannot compete with the strength of the United States military without the assistance of nuclear weapons. Before the late 1990s and into the 2000s, North Korea began to reinvent its image and stance within the global arena. In the mid-1970s, “North Korea was now recognized by more than 80 countries; it has also sought and gained acceptance into several international organizations including the World Health Organization and the International Parliamentary Union, and it has gained observer status at the United Nations” (Zagoria & Kim, 1975, 1022). Over the years, however, its economy and political acknowledgement would dwindle, thus forcing it to find a new avenue of acceptance as a global power. It desperately sought a recognition from others that it a weak and failing country but a state of relevance, impact, and high status.

The nuclear tests that began in 2006 established North Korea as a nuclear threat to surrounding nations. Analysis by the North Korean government on retaliation from adversaries produced “the likelihood of an all-out invasion by the U.S. to bring down the regime in Pyongyang as minimal because of the possibility of North Korean retaliation against U.S. allies, the burden on the U.S. military, and the global costs of war in an economically vibrant region” (Song, 2011, 1140-1141). The NK government, therefore, felt pursuit of global power through nuclear acquisition was an obvious winning strategy with only minor costs, despite high rhetoric from the United States. The nuclear program’s benefits extend beyond the assertion of being a respected global power. “North Korea’s reinvigorated nuclear program gives it the potential to export fissile materials, nuclear weapons development technologies and expertise, or even completed operational weapons” (Huntley, 2006, 725). The ability to sell uranium to other countries will arguably help North Korea stabilize its fractured economy regardless of how other countries like the US feel.

The development of the nuclear program has given North Korea the ability to impact the world’s economy in a significant way. “North Korea also has the ability to threaten the global economy. Japan and South Korea, the second and 11th largest economies in the world, respectively, as well as major U.S. trading partners, are both vulnerable to any DPRK attack” (Howard, 2004, 810). The continued perseverance to create this nuclear program has put NK ahead of countries, such as Japan and South Korea, who do not have nuclear weapons and are not formally pursuing them. This extant potential threat of a nuclear NK also drives its need for greater international respect, let alone having a nuclear program increases the chances of North Korea being successful in any future military actions taken against it. North Korea has demonstrated that it is willing to use these weapons if needed to protect its country.

Although NK actions over the last several decades have been portrayed as “proof” of an aggressive and irrational North Korea, these calculated moves clearly have rational purpose to the NK government. If North Korea was focused on truly expanding its territory and taking control over South Korea, rather than just using the nuclear threat to solidify its own place in the global community and at the international table, its military actions would be far more invasive and chaotic. There have been instances since the armistice agreement in 1953, but they have been minimal and did not develop further into another war.

The overall purpose of the NK nuclear program is to reestablish dialogue with the United States on a more equal footing and create economic stability for its country. North Korea’s nuclear program established itself (at least in NK’s mind) as a significant military power and one that cannot be taken lightly. The fear of being undermined, disrespected, and dismissed was minimized. If the rest of the world wants North Korea to voluntarily walk away from its nuclear status, then it needs to find a compelling strategy that shows North Korea is considered seriously, taken as an equal partner, and legitimately respected in the global arena. Otherwise, the world better get used to a nuclearized North on the Korean peninsula.

Leann Maloney is originally from East Bridgewater, MA but currently resides in Florida. She has a bachelor's degree in History and Criminal Justice from the University of Central Florida and a master's degree in Business Continuity, Security, and Risk Management from Boston University. She is currently enrolled in the American Military University’s Doctorate of Strategic Intelligence program.

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East Asia

High time for India to Reconsider the One-China Policy

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Sino-Indian bilateral relations have seen major challenges in the recent years, beginning with the Doklam crisis to the current pandemic situation. The sugar-coated rhetoric of Beijing proved to be mere duplicity after tensions erupted along the Line of Actual Control where soldiers of both the states clashed in mid-2020, resulting in the martyrdom of several Indian jawans including a commanding officer. The other side also saw several casualties, though Beijing has kept the actual count under wraps. More recently, China suspended the state-run Sichuan Airlines cargo planes carrying medical supplies to India for 15 days citing the deteriorating situation in India due to COVID-19. This was after the Chinese government promised all the necessary help for India to battle the pandemic. 

The People’s Republic of China under the leadership of Xi Jinping has been maintaining an aggressive posture with India even while making calls for ‘maintaining peace’. Its support for all-weather friend Pakistan has attained new peaks when it proclaimed the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor under the Belt and Road Initiative passing through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, a territory claimed by India, despite New Delhi’s staunch opposition. It is in the light of all these events that the calls of the strategic community in India to review the recognition of One China policy has gained some attention. 

India’s Sensitivity versus China’s Duplicity  

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) under the Communist Party of China (CPC) claims itself as the only representative of the Chinese nation including the territories of Tibet and Taiwan among others. Any country having formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, also known as Republic of China shall be seen by China as challenging its sovereignty. The same parameter applies to any country recognizing Tibet or similar ‘autonomous regions’ under the Chinese control. This is known as the ‘One China Principle’ or ‘One China Policy’. India was one of the first countries to recognize the PRC in 1949 after the civil war as well as to accord recognition to its occupation of Tibet. However, China claims the whole of India’s Arunachal Pradesh as ‘South Tibet’, a claim that India has always rebuffed. Moreover, it occupies Aksai Chin which it captured during the 1962 war as well as the Shaksgam valley, ceded illegally to it by Pakistan in 1963.

Even after the war and the re-establishment of cordial bilateral relations, China has continued to repeat its illegitimate claims and nibble into India’s territory.  India’s protests fell on deaf ears and this is despite India recognizing the One China Policy. India stopped mentioning the policy since 2010 in its public announcements and publications, however, without repealing it. Taking undue advantage of this China pays little concern to Indian sentiments. This view in India, to challenge China’s One China Policy, has been strengthened by aggressive diplomatic postures of China as well as its regular incursions along the disputed border while continuing to support Islamabad on all fronts – overtly and covertly, encircling India. 

The government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi refused to give in to the bullying attempts by China by allowing the Army to go ahead with offensive countermeasures against Chinese incursions in 2017 as well as in 2020, in addition to taking measures including banning dozens of Chinese mobile applications. It has also started actively taking part in initiatives like Quadrilateral Dialogue as well as strengthening relations with ASEAN states. However, a dominant section within the strategic community in India feel that these measures are not enough to knock China into its senses. 

Challenging the One China Policy 

The most significant among the measures suggested in this regard has been to review India’s adherence to the One China policy. In an atmosphere where China does not recognize the One India policy comprising of Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh as Indian territories, experts argue the need of reciprocity. Initiatives such as providing greater global visibility and access for Tibetans including the 14th Dalai Lama, using Buddhist history and traditions as a trump card since New Delhi has the advantage of having the Dalai Lama on its side, provides legitimacy for India unlike China. India can facilitate the appointment of the next Dalai Lama and extend protection for the existing and the next Dalai Lama. The repeal of the recognition for Chinese occupation of Tibet can also send major tremors in Beijing but that seems to be a distant dream. The new democratic Tibetan government under President Penpa Tsering should be given greater official acknowledgment and publicity. India has already taken small steps in this regard by acknowledging the involvement of the elite Special Frontier Force (SFF), majorly comprising of exiled Tibetans, in a game changing operation to shift the balance against China during the recent border crisis. The funeral of an SFF commando attended by a Member of Parliament and leader from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Ram Madhav was an overt signaling to China that Indians are not refraining from openly recognizing Tibetan contributions to the state of India. Another sensitive issue for China is the Xinjiang’s Uyghur Muslims being allegedly tortured and deprived of their basic human rights in the ‘re-education camps’ by the CPC and a state sponsored genocide being carried out against them. India can take up the issue vigorously at international forums with like-minded countries, increasing the pressure on China. Similarly, the pro-democracy voices in Hong Kong, pro-Mongol movements such as the protest against Mandarin imposition in the school curriculum of Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, can also be encouraged or given moral support. India, a country which upholds its virtue of unity in diversity must take a strong stand against the ‘cultural assimilation’ or ‘liberation’ as the Chinese say. This is nothing but cultural destruction imposed by China using the rhetoric of ‘not being civilised’ and branding the non-Han population as barbaric in China and the regions it illegally occupies.

India can also stir the hornet’s nest by engaging more formally with the Taiwanese leadership. Taipei has always been approached by New Delhi keeping in mind the sensitivities of China in mind. However, it does not have to do so for a power that bullies both the nations with constant threats and provocations by its action. It is a well-known fact that Taiwan is a center of excellence in terms of the semi-conductor industry and high-end technology. Engaging more with Taiwan will not only hurt Beijing, but also will help India counter the strategic advantage possessed by China in terms of being the major exporters of electronic goods and telecommunication hardware to India. India can also attain more self-sufficiency by boosting its own electronics industry using the Taiwanese semiconductor bases. India can use this leverage to shed its overdependence on China in critical sectors, balance the trade deficit to some extent, while also securing its networks from Chinese intelligence. India must also focus on working with the states having stake in the South China Sea such as Philippines and Malaysia who regularly face aggression in their airspace and Exclusive Economic Zones from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) forces and China’s maritime militia, questioning their territorial sovereignty, imposing the One China Policy. New Delhi must pressurize China by working with the western nations, whose legislators have openly declared support for the Tibetan President in exile, to question China’s occupation of Tibet and attempts at homogenizing the population. Long term measures and strategies will have to be sought to end the dependence on China while seeking alternatives and becoming self-reliant over time. 

However, India will face several serious challenges to implement the above-mentioned measures. There is a deep lack of mutual trust among major powers like USA, UK, France and Russia through whom India can build a coalition. The American President Joe Biden is seemingly interested in partly co-operating with China and has a softer stance unlike the former President Trump. Nevertheless, the QUAD is a welcome step in this regard and India must undertake a greater role in pressurizing China through such forums, albeit not openly. India also has a serious issue of possibly having to incur heavy economic losses on having to limit Chinese goods and investments and finding similarly cheap and easy alternatives. These fault lines are exactly what is being exploited by China to its advantage. Thus, the Indian state and its diplomacy has the heavy task of working between all these hurdles and taking China to task. However, since China seems remotely interested in settling the border disputes like it did with its post-Soviet neighbours in the previous decades and instead gauge pressure against India. So, New Delhi will have to pull up its sleeves to pay back China in the same coin.  

The views expressed are solely of the author.

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East Asia

Who would bell the China cat?

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If the G-7 and NATO china-bashing statements are any guide, the world is in for another long interregnum of the Cold War (since demise of the Soviet Union). The G-7 leaders called upon China to “respect human rights in its Xinjiang region” and “allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy” and “refrain from any unilateral action that could destabilize the East and South China Seas”, besides maintaining “peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits”.

China’s tit-for-tat response

The Chinese mission to the European Union called upon the NATO not to exaggerate the “China threat theory”

Bitter truths

Amid the pandemic, still raging, the world is weary of resuscitating Cold War era entente. Even the G-7 members, Canada and the UK appear to be lukewarm in supporting the US wish to plunge the world into another Cold War. Even the American mothers themselves are in no mood to welcome more coffins in future wars. Importance of the G-7 has been whittled down by G-20. 

Presumptions about the China’s cataclysmic rise are unfounded. Still, China is nowhere the US gross National Product. China’s military budget is still the second largest after the US. It is still less than a third of Washington’s budget to be increased by 6.8 per cent in 2021.

India’s role

India claims to be a natural ally of the G-7 in terms of democratic “values”. But the US based Freedom House has rated India “partly free because of its dismal record in persecution of minorities. Weakened by electoral setbacks in West Bengal, the Modi government has given a free hand to religious extremists. For instance, two bigots, Suraj Pal Amu and Narsinghanand Saraswati have been making blasphemous statements against Islam at press conferences and public gatherings.

India’s main problem

Modi government’s mismanagement resulted in shortage of vaccine and retroviral drugs. The healthcare system collapsed under the mounting burden of fatalities.  

Media and research institutions are skeptical of the accuracy of the death toll reported by Indian government.

The New York Times dated June 13, 2021 reported (Tracking Corona virus in India: Latest Map and case Count) “The official COVID-19 figures in India grossly under-estimate the true scale of the pandemic in the country”. The Frontline dated June 4, 2021 reported “What is clear in all these desperate attempts is the reality that the official numbers have utterly lost their credibility in the face of the biggest human disaster in independent India (V. Sridhar, India’s gigantic death toll due to COVID-19 is  thrice  the official numbers”, The frontline, June 4, 2021). It adds “More than 6.5 lakh Indians, not the 2.25 lakh reported officially are estimated to have died so far and at best a million more are expected to die by September 2021. The Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that actual Indian casualties may be 0.654 million (6.54 lakh), not the official count of 0.221 million (2.21 lakh as on May 6 when the report was released. That is a whopping three times the official numbers, an indicator of the extent of under-reporting”.

Epidemiologist Dr. Feigl-ding told India Today TV on April, 16, 2021 that “actual number of COVID-19 cases in India can be five or six times higher than the tally right now” (“Actual COVID-19 cases in India may be 5 to 10 times higher, says epidemiologist. India Today TV April 16, 2021).

Concluding remarks

India’s animosity against China is actuated by expediency. There is no chance of a full-blown war between China and India as the two countries have agreed not to use firepower in border skirmishes, if any. Modi himself told the All-party conference that not an inch of Indian territory has been ceded to China. In May this year, the Army Chief General M M. Naravane noted in an interview: “There has been no transgression of any kind and the process of talks is continuing.”

It is not China but the Quad that is disturbing unrest in China’s waters.

History tells the USA can sacrifice interests of its allies at the altar of self interest. India sank billions of dollars in developing the Chabahar Port. But, India had to abandon it as the US has imposed sanctions on Iran.

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East Asia

Xinjiang? A Minority Haven Or Hell

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While the G7 meets under the shadow of Covid 19 and the leaders of the most prosperous nations on earth are focused on rebuilding their economies, a bloodless pogrom is being inflicted on a group of people on the other side of the world.

In this new era, killing people is wasteful and could bring the economic wrath of the rest of the world.  No, it is better to brainwash them, to re-educate them, to destroy their culture, to force them to mold themselves into the alien beings who have invaded their land in the name of progress, and who take the best new jobs that sprout with economic development.  Any protest at these injustices are treated severely.

Amnesty International has published a new 160-page report this week on Xinjiang detailing the horrors being perpetrated on Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.  Amnesty has simultaneously announced a campaign on their behalf.

Persecution, mass imprisonment in what can best be described as concentration camps, intensive interrogation and torture are actions that come under the definition of ‘crimes against humanity’.  More than 50 people who spent time in these camps contributed first-hand accounts that form the substance of the report.  It is not easy reading for these people have themselves suffered maltreatment even torture in many instances.

The UN has claimed that 1.5 million Muslims (Uighurs, Kazakhs, Uzbeks and Tajiks) are in these internment camps and China’s claims of re-education camps made to sound as benign as college campuses are patently false.

People report being interviewed in police stations and then transferred to the camps.  Their interrogation was frequently conducted on ‘tiger chairs’:   The interviewee is strapped to a metal chair with leg irons and hands cuffed in such a manner that the seating position soon becomes exceedingly painful.  Some victims were hooded; some left that way for 24 hours or more, and thus were forced to relieve themselves, even defecate, where they sat.  Beatings and sleep deprivation were also common.

Activities were closely monitored and they were mostly forbidden to speak to other internees including cell mates.  Trivial errors such as responding to guards or other officials in their native language instead of Mandarin Chinese resulted in punishment.

Amnesty’s sources reported the routine was relentless.  Wake up at 5am.  Make bed — it had to be perfect.  A flag-raising and oath-taking ceremony before breakfast at 7 am.  Then to the classroom.  Back to the canteen for lunch.  More classes after.  Then dinner.  Then more classes before bed.  At night two people had to be on duty for two hours monitoring the others leaving people exhausted.  You never see sunlight while you are there, they said.  That was because they were never taken outside as is done in most prisons.

The re-education requires them to disavow Islam, stop using their native language, give up cultural practices, and become Mandarin-speaking ‘Chinese’.

Such are the freedoms in Xi Jinping’s China.  If China’s other leaders prior to Mr. Xi effected moderate policies in concert with advisers, it is no longer the case.  Mr. Xi works with a small group of like minds.  He has also removed the two-term or eight-year limit on being president.  President for life as some leaders like to call themselves, then why not Mr. Xi.  His anti-democratic values make him eminently qualified. 

An enlightened leader might have used the colorful culture of these minorities to attract tourists and show them the diversity of China.  Not Mr. Xi, who would rather have everyone march in lockstep to a colorless utopia reminiscent of the grey clothing and closed-collar jackets of the Maoist era. 

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