Security and Foreign Policy

North Korea’s Diplomatic Gestures Continue To Raise Doubt

Experts from across the globe are eyeing North Korea as the summit nears continually questioning the country's intent. Brittany Kaylor examines North Korea's overt and covert gestures assessing what North Korea is really attempting to achieve through the talks.


The actions of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea, are shaped largely by the external pressures the country feels due to its location. North Korea’s location has historically been used as a bridge and battle ground between regional powers, such as China and Japan, as well as the U.S. It is in the DPRK’s national interest to secure its borders via political cooperation, while stimulating a potential sense of unity with South Korea to help balance external political pressures and mitigate the threat posed by its much larger and seemingly more powerful neighbors. However, some experts question Kim Jong Un’s recent concession to stop conducting nuclear and missile tests, and even the abolishment of a test site, as simply an attempt by the regime to buy more time to develop a viable nuclear deterrent, instead of finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

North Korea has not forgotten what happened to Muammar Gaddafi, the former Dictator of Libya, who despite surrendering his nuclear weapons in concordance with Western demands in 2003, was killed by NATO-backed rebel forces in the Libyan Civil War eight years later. While the decision to stop North Korea’s nuclear and missile development as well as dismantling launch facilities decreases the threat of war, it does not remove it as a plausible bargaining chip altogether. The pursuit for further nuclear development could be resumed rather easily, whether done overtly or covertly at any other potential test sites.

George Friedman, founder of both Stratfor and Geopolitical Futures, argues that North Korea has used nuclear weapons as a tool, which he deemed the “ferocious, weak, and crazy” strategy. Over the past few decades, North Korea appeared convinced that the only way to avoid war and regime collapse triggered by outside forces, was to appear ferocious, and unpredictable, yet weak (therefore, not worth dealing with, creating the appearance that eventual collapse was inevitable), all the while continually striving to develop a nuclear deterrent. However, many sources indicate it is now in the final stages of developing one. Thus, North Korea must readjust its tactics, because outside powers are convinced that it now possesses enough real nuclear capability to be taken very seriously.

The upcoming summit to be held on June 12th in Singapore with the U.S., and President Trump, appears to be giving North Korea the recognition it seeks. However, North Korea recently cancelled a meeting with high-level representatives from South Korea, due to the ongoing joint military operations, Max Thunder, conducted between the U.S. and South Korea. Kim Jong-Un stated that the exercises challenge the Panmunjom Declaration, which included initial plans for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula that was signed at the inter-Korean summit on April 27th. The announcement from Kim’s regime also implied that such drills could also cause issues for the upcoming summit between U.S. President Donald Trump.

The question remains whether nuclear weapons are the end goal for North Korea, or are they just a means to try and ensure the security of the regime and provide a potential path towards the unification of North and South Korea? It is clear that a divided Korea after World War II, lying between the major powers of the Cold War proved to be weak, and exploitable. It is likely that the DPRK will continually press for the U.S.’ withdrawal from South Korea, as well as to reach some sort of confederation or agreement with the South. However, it is improbable that South Korea would risk antagonizing Japan or jeopardizing its relationship with the U.S., both of which are likely to be strongly opposed to such an agreement. The U.S. is unlikely to consider pulling out of its geostrategic position in the Southern Korean Peninsula, because that would weaken its relative position to China, which would most assuredly be seen as an unacceptable trade-off.

Thus, the nuclear dilemma in North Korea appears unlikely to be resolved in a timely manner. North Korea’s diplomatic maneuvering is a part of Kim Jong-Un’s grand strategy, not of President Trump’s negotiating efforts. As diplomacy continues to generate positive news headlines on both sides, the real question of achieving denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula remains unanswered.

Brittany Kaylor is an Investigative Analyst who works on specialized projects that help to protect the national security interests of the United States. She has her M.A. in Global Affairs with a specialization in National Security from Florida International University (FIU). Previously, she worked as a Protective Intelligence Analyst and Regional specialist for Latin America.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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