Understanding North Korea's Ambitions By Jun Kwon
Same story, different day. We have seen similar cycles of North Korea’s provocation and the immediately following condemnations and the intensifying sanctions by the United States and the international community through the United Nations Security Council.
Sanctions have prompted an angry outburst from North Korea, which has led to more missile (including ICBMs) and nuclear tests. A war of threatening words and the exchange of pugnacious rhetoric have ensued between North Korea and the United States.
This pattern with regards to the North Korean issue has been going on and off for more than twenty years. Most recently, President Trump said of Kim Jong Un, “He has been very threatening beyond a normal state, and as I said, they will be met with fire and fury, and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
A spokesman of the (North) Korean People’s Army (KPA) Strategic Force immediately responded with a statement that included: “The KPA Strategic Force is now carefully examining the operational plan for making an enveloping fire at the areas around Guam with medium-to-long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 in order to contain the U.S. major military bases on Guam including the Anderson Air Force Base…The plan is to be soon reported to the Supreme Command soon after going through full examination and completion and will be put into practice in a multi-concurrent and consecutive way any moment once Kim Jong Un, supreme commander of the nuclear force of the DPRK, makes a decision.”
No one has any benefits or incentives from military conflicts on the Korean Peninsula, but the apparent security dilemma and arms race are intensifying.
Two elements should be considered in analyzing the external behaviors of a country in terms of security threats: capabilities and intentions. Are they militarily capable to attack you? And do they true intentions to use that military capability to strike you?
The immediate cause of the increasing tension around the Korean peninsula of late is the recent ICBM tests of North Korea. Pyongyang has rapidly improved its tests of missiles to fly farther than the last ones which could put the U.S. mainland in range of a strike.
Pyongyang’s rapid advancement in ICBM technology is viewed as a more imminent threat against the U.S. and has prompted outright fear and security concern in the U.S. about possible North Korean attacks. North Korea has crossed the Rubicon or the red line put down by the United States. At the same time, it's unclear yet how advanced the North Korean weapons programs really are.
One is thing clear; however, North Korea is more likely to continue to develop its military technology until it achieves its goal- ICBMs that are able to reach the U.S. Mainland and nuclear warheads (hydrogen bombs) small and light enough to be mounted on ICBMs.
North Korea’s ambitions to acquire ICBMs and nuclear weapons have been driven by deep-seated fear of regime collapse caused by a U.S. military attack. The core motivation behind the missile and nuclear saber rattling is regime survival. North Korea wants to have confidence in its ability to defend itself and will “tighten its grip on the priceless nuclear treasure sword” against U.S. military invasion.
North Korea believes that if a country has nuclear weapons, it will not be attacked militarily. In the same vein, it believes that Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi would have survived if they had possessed nuclear weapons to avoid the U.S. attacks.
Jun Kwon is Assistant Professor of Government at Utica College.