WITH the whole world staring daggers at North Korea, why is the rogue state so intent on harnessing the very weapon that could destroy it?
NORTH Korea sees being a “nuclear state” as a “poison pill” that will ensure its own survival, making a peaceful conclusion to its conflict with the US difficult to achieve.
Brad Glosserman, executive director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in the US, told news.com.au the status of being a nuclear state was so important to North Korea it was enshrined in its constitution in 2012.
Former leader Kim Jong-il revised the constitution to state that he had “transferred the country into an undefeated country with strong political ideology, a nuclear power state, and invincible military power”.
Mr Glosserman said North Korea’s nuclear ambitions were a “poison pill” to ensure its survival as other countries like the US would be afraid of retaliation if they attacked the regime.
“The North Koreans believe they need it, I think mistakenly, as a way of creating greater security that allows them to influence the security environment,” Mr Glosserman told news.com.au during a visit to Australia last month.
“It keeps Korea on the security agenda in ways that allow it to continue to extort resources from the world and continue to be a source of attention.”
North Korea struggles to produce enough food to feed its people, and over the years South Korea and the US have given it millions in food and fertiliser aid. China, a long-term ally of North Korea, bought its coal until recently and also helps to keep its economy afloat.
Mr Glosserman said if North Korea didn’t get international assistance including food then its people would starve so it needed to be “public enemy number two”, inspiring just enough fear to keep other countries at bay but not enough for them to attack.
“Public enemy number one gets the Saddam Hussein treatment but public enemy number two, you just want to make it go away,” he said.
Another reason why North Korea wanted the weapons was to maintain an area of superiority with South Korea.
“Nuclear weapons capability is the only thing that distinguishes North Korea from South Korea, and the inter-Korean competition is profound. This is the only one in which North Korea is on top, so they’ve got to keep those weapons,” Mr Glosserman said.
“In that environment, the North won’t give up its weapons.”
‘MOMENT OF OPPORTUNITY’
Tensions have reached boiling point in the region after a series of nuclear and missile tests in North Korea prompted the US to send an armada of warships to Korean waters including aircraft carrier the USS Carl Vinson.
Experts believe that North Korea could develop a long-range missile capable of reaching the US, with a nuclear bomb at the tip, within four years.
“That is a hell scary moment,” Professor John Blaxland told news.com.au.
Prof Blaxland is the acting head of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, and said the nuclearisation of a ballistic missile could threaten the US, halfway across the world, as well as Australia.
In fact, it’s been estimated that North Korea could develop a missile powerful enough to reach Australia within two years.
“So do we wait?” Prof Blaxland said. “Or do we act to bring it on? To get in before (North Korea) reaches that state? That is the ongoing debate.”
Another factor that has added pressure to the situation is the political turmoil in South Korea.
The US made a deal with South Korea to place a powerful anti-missile system in the country that could intercept and destroy missiles fired from North Korea.
But this deal was placed under a cloud earlier this year when then-president Park Geun-hye was impeached for corruption and then removed from office.
“If there is a missile on a pad and (the US) is reasonably sure that the North Koreans are going to aim that at a US asset or an ally etc … the perceived need to take that off the pad will be very, very high,” Mr Glosserman said.
“I think the North Korean capability is ‘one and done’. They get one shot at one adversary and that’s the end of their regime.
“It would demonstrate a recklessness and a disregard for human life … no regime should be allowed to do that and survive, that’s an act of war.
“The problem of course is, what will the consequences of that action be?
Mr Glosserman said the countries involved needed to be very careful as diplomacy was everyone’s preferred outcome.
Unfortunately Mr Glosserman said he didn’t think a deal could ultimately be brokered.
He said the US was demanding that North Korea give up its nuclear weapons but this is something they were not willing to do. The Chinese have asked for a freeze in activity but this doesn’t get rid of what the weapons they have already got.
“At the end of the day, the North Koreans believe that their nuclear weapons are too foundational to their survival and to the survival of their regime.,” he said.
“No one has come up with good terms by which we can at least begin a process to cap then roll back North Korea’s nuclear weapons.”