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The Foreign Policy of North Korea

This paper will seek to do several things. First, it will describe the basic elements of North Korea’s national strategy in relation to its general objectives, the instruments it has at its disposal to meet these objectives, and the resources it has to make these objectives functional. In addition to these, this paper will also seek to consider North Korea as a global, regional and national player relative to the strategies and instruments detailed above.

Finally, this paper will deal with the extent to which these policies affect the United States and its interest. It is basic argument is that North Korea is a paper tiger and will collapse under its own weight. II The foreign policy objectives of North Korea have changed since the fall of its primary patron, the USSR, in the early 1990s. Initially, North Korea was part of the Asian vanguard of communist states seeking to subvert east Asia in the interests of Soviet expansionism. After the fall of the USSR, it became clear that these objectives shifted.

In general these post 1992 objectives include: economic survival under isolation, the defense of its borders against American or South Korean incursions, and maintain an outpost of Stalinism in hopes to ignite revolution elsewhere. The minimal element of this latter objective is to unify the two Koreas under Pyongyang’s influence and direction. This latter is of course a formal objective that underscores its ideological basis and justifies its ideological existence. Hence, North Korea has gone from the vanguard of revolution to an isolated outpost of 1950s Stalinism (Beal, 2005).

The short term objectives are the removal of American forces from the border region of the two Koreas, and, as will be explained in more detail below, using the threat of nuclear development in order to force food aid and other assistance from the US and Japan. The instruments of Korean foreign policy are another matter. North Korea is an economic basket case, it is suffering from major food shortages and only a handful of its factories are currently operating. As a result, the main instrument that the regime has chosen is terror: the threat of nuclear war in Asia.

Hence, the military establishment of North Korea, almost completely an autonomous entity within the state system, has full control over the instruments of foreign policy, almost exclusively military in nature (Kongdan, 1999, contradicted by Mansourov, 2006). Recent testimony to The House Select Committee in Intelligence (2009) has had this to say on this issue: Pyongyang probably views its nuclear weapons as being more for deterrence, international prestige, and coercive diplomacy than for war-fighting and would consider using nuclear weapons only under certain narrow circumstances.

We also assess Pyongyang probably would not attempt to use nuclear weapons against US forces or territory unless it perceived the regime to be on the verge of military defeat and risked an irretrievable loss of control (Blair, 2009) At the same time, the military has also taken the lead in shipments of arms to the third world, including Syria, Pakistan and Iran. This is also an important element of the instruments available to Pyongyang, in that Korean weapons are slightly dated, and hence cheap on the highly competitive arms market. Moreover, the resources that the Stalinist regime has at its disposal are meager.

The CIA has the most telling of all the basic descriptions of the North Korean economy at present. Its introductory remarks state: North Korea, one of the world’s most centrally directed and least open economies, faces chronic economic problems. Industrial capital stock is nearly beyond repair as a result of years of under investment and shortages of spare parts. Large-scale military spending draws off resources needed for investment and civilian consumption. Industrial and power output have declined in parallel from pre-1990 levels (CIA Factbook, 2009) Hence, the resources to fulfill its objectives are minimal.

North Korea does not have a functioning economy, and survives entirely on repression and direct military rule. As the CIA mentions (as well as Kongdan (1999)), North Korea is on a food rationing system, and employment is provided only by the state. The economy has a large black market which largely keeps it afloat. The CIA has cited North Korea for being a major narcotics trafficker as well as engaged in the sale of slave labor. However bizarre, both of these “exports” are part of the global strategy of North Korea both for survival and for subverting the global system.

If objectives and instruments, plus resources, equal strategy, then North Korea can be said to be in grave trouble. As the head of intelligence said in the quote above, it is unlikely that North Korea would actually use its nuclear weapons, given the massive counterstrike they would receive. So even this main prop in North Korea’s foreign policy has substantial limitations. Furthermore, it is unclear if even a large conventional war could be carried out from a North Korean base that is so economically poor.

The South Korean military forces, supplemented y the US, are infinitely superior in logistics, air power and technology. It is also highly questionable if the extremely poor North Korean economy could actually uniform, arm and feed (even over the short term) its very large (paper) army. In this writer’s opinion, the North Korean military threat to the world is minimal, it does not have the economic resources to maintain any kind of war over any length of time. North Korea’s opponents are superior to it in every conceivable way, economic, demographic, technological, agricultural and technological.

Furthermore, if the North were ever to launch a war against the South, it is possible that the long pent up anger and depravation of the North Korean people against Pyongyang would burst forth. The war, in other words, may act as a catalyst for popular discontent which has only shown itself in fits and starts to this date. III. One can summarize North Korean foreign policy and basic national strategy on three levels: global, regional, and national (domestic). This paper will now take each in turn. Of all the elements of North Korea’s policy, a specifically “global” angle is the greatest challenge.

North Korea cannot afford to be picky about its allies, and, if her arms sales are any indicator, then these allies are Syria, Pakistan and Iran, with Iraq under Hussein a former client of the North. More recently, Ethiopia has been a major buyer of North Korean arms (Kessler, 2007). Kessler writes that North Korea uses strictly older Soviet factories to make its weapons systems, and hence, has a natural role in the global economy keeping up with the demand of countries that were at one time on the Soviet Payroll. In other words, countries such as Ethiopia and Angola, former Soviet clients, can only afford the older weapons systems.

But since these are the only systems that North Koreans can make, they are the perfect supplier of spare parts and other technological assistance for these older systems. The Washington Post piece ends with this interesting quote: The Bush administration has led a years-long campaign to choke off North Korea’s access to hard currency by thwarting weapons sales and cracking down on its extensive counterfeiting operations. North Korea recently agreed to shut down its nuclear reactor, but only after the United States ended an investigation into a Macau bank linked to money laundering and counterfeiting operations.

About $25 million in North Korea-linked bank accounts was frozen because of the probe, infuriating Pyongyang (Kessler, 2007). Since 2007, that reactor has been reactivated. Nevertheless, this piece suggests that another element of Pyongyang’s “contribution” to the global economy has been money laundering and counterfeiting, two “instruments” of foreign policy that are relatively unknown in the general literature on the topic. However, the Congressional Research Report on this topic, North Korean Counterfeiting of U. S. Currency (2006) fills a substantial gap in this important element of Korean global strategy.

In general, the report states that the North Korean government regularly prints $100 Federal reserve notes and uses its spy apparatus to spread these abroad. But this report goes further, and claims that this counterfeiting operation is a way for the Stalinist state to finance its debt, it summarizes this: North Korea needs to raise approximately $1 billion per year to fund its merchandise trade deficit. The DPRK imports more than it exports and must generate enough foreign exchange to cover the difference through some means either legal or illegal.

Legal means include borrowing, foreign investments, foreign aid, remittances from overseas Koreans, selling military equipment not reflected in trade data, and by selling services abroad. Illegal methods include the counterfeiting of hard currency, illegal sales of military equipment or technology, sales of illegal drugs, or by shipping illegal cargo between third countries. The country also can dip into its meager foreign exchange reserves. North Korea considers the United States to be a hostile nation and often takes actions commensurate with that policy (CRS, 2007, 3-4).

The Korean regional strategy is more immediate to Pyongyang’s interest, and includes China, South Korea, and Japan. In today’s news (March 2, 2009), a major shift in North Koran regional strategy was just announced. The BBC reports that Pyongyang, desperate for aid, has agreed to multilateral talks with the US and South Korea. This is of immense significance. The general purpose of the talks was to ease tensions along the border between South and North Korea. While North and South Korean military officials have held talks over the last year or so, nothing substantial came as a result.

The BBC reports said that the talks were “hastily arranged” suggesting increasing trouble in the North, as she seeks the assistance that maintains her barely functional economy. At the same time, there have been hints of minor border clashes between the US and North Korea, and there has been a large amount of talk on the launching of the famed North Korean long range Taepodong-2 long range missile. It is clear that the North, regardless of the ritual sabre-rattling, is negotiating from a position of weakness, as outlined above.

Finally, in dealing with Pyongyang’s domestic strategy, limited an information make this element of the paper a challenge. We know several things: we know that there are food shortages regularly, we know the economy is contracting and that there are limited pockets of unrest. That is about it right now. However, the Russian scholar Alexdadre Mansourov (2006) has summarized a few major national issues that impinge on what we have mentioned. Mansourov holds that things are getting better in the North, though he admits that there is a limited amount of information out there.

He holds that the Kim regime has instituted many reforms, constitutional, economic and military, that will make the system more open. Though substantial results have yet to be seen, except in areas that are open to foreigners (Mansourov, 2006, 47). Furthermore, the resurrection of Confucius has been stated, as has a Korean nationalism as an ideological substitute to Stalin. Kim, in this article, is building not a communist state, but a medieval Asian one, albeit with nuclear weapons (Mansourov, 49). In other words, the idea is that Kim is attempting to overthrow the status quo while still hurling missiles at the outside world.

It results have been poor thus far, and many of the economic reforms that are spoken of in this article have been eliminated. But if the above is the case, then the US has little to fear. The north can easily be hemmed in by the South, as well as the Japanese, and hence US policy towards North Korea should not be confrontation, but simply the encouragement of change. North Korea is not attempting to reform itself only to start a nuclear war. The US should, then, permit the South to deal with the North, and to eventually unify the peninsula under Southern domination.

In this writer’s view, the affect on North Korea to the US is minimal. The US already lost 55,000 men saving South Korea, it is now the Korean’s turn to unify the peninsula under the first world economy of Seoul. In conclusion, this paper has dealt with the three levels of strategy: objectives, instruments and resources, and concluded that while the objectives are rather well defined, the North falls way short on the latter two. The instruments and resources are just not there to gain the objectives, and only revolution and absorption by the South can ever bring the needed reforms about.

Furthermore, this paper has also dealt with the foreign policy of Seoul over the three levels of analysis: global, Asian and national and domestic and has reached the same conclusion: Pyongyang is a paper tiger. But since Pyongyang’s foreign policy is so bizarre, it is very difficult to fine any real parallels with the US, unless one considers the “defense of the homeland,” which, in a military sense, is not an issue for the US as it is for Pyongyang. Bibliography: Beal, Tim. “The Abductee Issue and the Looming East Asian Crisis: Japan-North Korea Relations Within the Six Party Context.

” Paper Presentation at the 13th Annual Japan Politics Colloquium. April 13, 2005. Kongdan, Oh. “North Korea Between Collapse and Reform. ” Asian Survey 39, (1999) 287-309 Blair, Dennis. Annual Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. HPSCI ATA FEB 2009-IC Statement for the Record, 24-26 Central Intelligence Agency (USA). North Korea. CIA Library: The World Factbook, 2009 (https://www. cia. gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/kn. html) Kessler, Glenn.

“The US Allowed North Korea Arms Sales. ” The Washington Post, April 8, 2007, A15 Perl, Raphael, et al. North Korean Counterfeiting of US Currency. Congressional Research Reports, (code RL33324), 2006 British Broadcasting Service. “North Korea Holds Rare UN Talks. ” BBC Online, March 2, 2009. (http://news. bbc. co. uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7918117. stm) Mansurov, Aledandre. “The Emergence of the Second Republic: The Kim Regime Adapts to the Challenges of Modernity. ” in North Korea: The Politics of Survival. Hong Nak Kim, ed. Me Sharpe 2006, 37-58.

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