What North Korea Really Wants

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Conventional geopolitical thinking has long assumed that North Korea has pursued an unrelenting campaign of provocations, its illicit nuclear program, and even a nuclear weapons test with the objective of assuring the survival of its current regime.
Toward that end, an exasperated Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently told CNN, "there is no intention to invade or attack them.
So they have that guarantee...
I don't know what more they want.
" It is that "more" that North Korea wants that is really driving North Korea's actions.
North Korea wants the U.
S.
to withdraw its forces from South Korea, end its military obligations to the South, and ultimately, Korean reunification on its terms.
North Korea has long sought to reunify and place the Korean Peninsula under its totalitarian rule.
On June 25, 1950 it launched an invasion of South Korea only to have its forces rolled back by massive U.
S.
intervention.
Ultimately, following Chinese, and to a lesser extent, Soviet intervention in the conflict, the boundary between the two Koreas was set at the 38th Parallel.
Since then, North Korea has persisted in its call for reunification.
Under Kim Jong-il, that call for reunification has grown more urgent.
North Korea sees Korean reunification as "the call of history," North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) explained on January 11, 1999.
"For the Korean nation, nothing is more important than national reunification and no task is more urgent than it," KCNA added.
On October 4, 2006, KCNA declared, "To achieve the reunification of the country is the most urgent task facing the Korean nation.
" Kim Jong-il and his government believe they are the ones who will bring about Korean reunification.
On August 5, 2002, KCNA reported, "National reunification is sure to come under the leadership of Kim Jong-il, the sun of the 21st century and the lodestar of national reunification.
" When discussing its pursuit of reunification, North Korea employs often soothing language.
On January 7, 1999 KCNA explained, "To achieve the great unity of the whole nation is a decisive guarantee for the independent and peaceful reunification of the fatherland.
" There is nothing reassuring about North Korea's calls for reunification.
Rather, North Korea is borrowing from Cold War Era propaganda efforts that were aimed at dividing Western popular opinion.
For example, a declassified memorandum to the director of the CIA issued on December 21, 1961 observed of the USSR, "The peaceful coexistence line, far from being an abandonment of Soviet expansionist goals, is a tactical prescription considerably more effective than the compound of heavy-handedness and isolationism which was Stalin's foreign policy.
" At closer inspection, the fangs of North Korea's totalitarian dictatorship are barely concealed.
"South Korea should not depend on the outside forces, but take the way for reunification through alliance with communism and the north," KCNA advised on January 4, 1999.
An "alliance with communism" would mean that South Korea would be required to embrace North Korea's totalitarian system.
The January 7, 1999 KCNA report added, "The five-point policy as well as the 10-Point Program of the Great Unity of the Whole Nation put forward by President Kim Il Sung are the banner the entire nation should uphold and the political program of great unity they must invariably defend and realize without fail.
" Later, on March 8, 2003, KCNA predicted, "All the Koreans in the north, the south and abroad will work hard to accomplish the cause of national reunification under Kim Jong-il's steermanship and thus glorify [the] dignity and honor of Kim Il Sung's nation.
" What is most revealing in this statement is that North Korea, not South Korea, would be "glorified" by reunification.
At present, it is the collision of this North Korean ambition and the U.
S.
-South Korean alliance that is driving North Korea's foreign policy in stiff defiance of the will of the United Nations and North Korea's neighbors.
North Korea is seeking to transform the environment to the point where it possesses the leverage to bring an end to the Korean Armistice Agreement of 1953 and can negotiate reunification to its own terms.
In place of the existing Armistice Agreement, North Korea seeks a "non-aggression pact" that would mandate the withdrawal of U.
S.
forces from South Korea and terminate the U.
S.
-South Korea military pact.
Then, South Korea would be rendered far more vulnerable to a possible attack by North Korea.
At the same time, as U.
S.
forces would not be impacted by possible hostilities and there no longer would be a binding U.
S.
commitment to defend South Korea, the U.
S.
would have far less legal basis to come to South Korea's assistance.
Moreover, a bilateral non-aggression agreement would make such intervention illegal.
This reality would greatly bolster North Korea's diplomatic leverage.
At present, North Korea's leadership has concluded that events in the Middle East, South Asia, and East Africa have increased its opportunity to transform the geopolitical playing field in its favor, with or without the support of the international community.
In 2003, Joseph Nye, Dean of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government trumpeted, "If anyone doubted the overwhelming nature of U.
S.
military power, Iraq settled the issue...
Not since Rome has one nation loomed so large above the others.
" Three years later, North Korea sees only weakness.
U.
S.
forces in Iraq appear hapless in the face of a 50,000-man insurgency, the Taliban is waging a comeback in Afghanistan, and radical Islamists affiliated with Al Qaeda have "bagged" Somalia with no U.
S.
response whatsoever.
Furthermore, North Korea sees the United States as "isolated" in the world community.
In contrast, North Korea believes it enjoys world support.
"Kim Jong-il has dedicated himself to the human cause of independence for a long time," KCNA declared, "The [world's] progressive people repose absolute trust in him.
" At a time when it is unimpressed with U.
S.
military capabilities and sees only U.
S.
weakness, North Korea believes it is invincible.
On October 10, KCNA boasted, "The single-minded unity of the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] in the Songun [strong military-centered state] era represents an indestructible harmonious whole in which the army and the people are closely united...
It is growing ever stronger...
The single-minded unity of our party and army is unbreakable.
" The news agency also proclaimed, "Our party will always demonstrate its might as an indestructible party that remains unshaken in any storm and stress and a militant party capable of doing anything...
" If North Korea largely escapes vigorous sanctions on account of its nuclear test, and odds favor such an outcome, North Korea's perception that it is in a position of being "capable of doing anything" will only be bolstered.
That will likely lead to an even more defiant and provocative North Korea.
Given international events and its own balance of powers calculations, North Korea is now stepping up its campaign to eliminate the presence of U.
S.
forces on the Korean Peninsula.
That is the real story behind its recent nuclear test.
"The Koreans should force the U.
S.
imperialist aggressor forces, the very source of war, to quit South Korea as early as possible," North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun recently declared.
"The U.
S.
forces present in South Korea are a stumbling block lying in the way of...
solving the issue of the country's reunification independently by the concerted efforts of the Koreans," KCNA stated on October 4.
KCNA also asserted, "The U.
S.
policy of military occupation of South Korea is a policy of enslavement to all intents and purposes.
The U.
S.
has interfered in all internal affairs of South Korea ranging from the installing of the 'government' to shaping its policies and their implementation to serve its purpose of aggression...
It is the unanimous will and ardent desire of the Koreans to drive the U.
S.
imperialist aggressor forces out of South Korea...
" So long as North Korea's paramount objective remains Korean reunification on its terms, it continues to view the U.
S.
commitment to South Korea as thwarting that ambition, and it believes the U.
S.
is weakening--a failure for the U.
S.
to bring about a stiff international sanctions regime will further confirm the idea that the U.
S.
is weakening--North Korea is not likely to alter its present course.
Economic inducements or security guarantees that fail to address North Korea's basic aspirations will hold little sway.
North Korea only wants an arrangement that would lead to the withdrawal of U.
S.
forces from South Korea and an end to the U.
S.
-South Korean military alliance.
Anything else will do little to change North Korea's behavior.
As a result, there is little likelihood of meaningful breakthroughs anytime soon.
Instead, North Korea will likely continue its nuclear buildup, carry out additional missile and nuclear tests, and launch fresh provocations.
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