What follows are the two papers delivered on May 16th to the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea.
The contributing speakers were Mrs.Park Sun-Young, a member of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea, who spoke about security and human rights issues and Mr.Mark Fitzpatrick, Director of the non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and who addressed the issue of North Korea’s nuclear programme and other security questions. Lord Alton is Chairman of the Parliamentary Group.
North Korean Security Challenges – Post Kim Jong-il
16 May 2012, All-Party Group on North Korea
Mark Fitzpatrick, International Institute for Strategic Studies
I wish to thank Lord Alton for this opportunity to meet with the All Party Group on North Korea
Last year when IISS wrote a dossier on North Korean Security Challenges, we were pessimistic about the security situation on the Korean Peninsula. We discussed a broad spectrum of security challenges posed by North Korea: wide-ranging in geographic impact and multifaceted in nature.
The immediate security challenges posed by North Korea are formidable. These include nearly the full array of weapons of mass destruction:
- a plutonium-based nuclear weapons program now supplemented by uranium enrichment;
- the world’s third largest chemical weapons arsenal, possibly biological weapons and
- a range of ballistic missiles that may be able to deliver these weapons to South Korea and Japan, if not today, then later, after more development and testing.
North Korea’s most direct threats are to its immediate neighbours, firstly, of course, to the ROK, by manner of conventional and asymmetric capabilities, including nuclear, CW, possibly BW, ballistic missiles, long-range artillery, special operations forces, and cyber warfare. North Korea remains the most militarised country on earth, with the world’s fourth largest army and biggest special forces. The threat is enhanced, and real, by virtue of North Korea’s propensity to initiate hostility as it did twice in 2010. In the cyber domain, it is on-going, including interference with GPS systems of planes using Seoul’s busy airports. Although its economic decline and enhanced capabilities in South Korea make any option to invade seem less credible today than in the past, the North has many ways to inflict harm without invading.
China is not directly threatened, but is deeply concerned about any eventually that could cause a refugee flow and tension in one of its sensitive border areas. North Korea’s human rights violations, inability to feed its people, and inherent systematic flaws could lead to implosion that produces China’s nightmare scenario, however much Chinese deny that such a thing could happen.
All countries, whether in Asia or Europe or elsewhere face a threat from North Korea’s drug trafficking, currency counterfeiting, money laundering, endangered species trafficking, smuggling of counterfeit cigarettes and pharmaceuticals, insurance fraud and other forms of state crime, not to mention the still unsettled crimes of abductions.
Countries around the world are also threatened by North Korea’s willingness to transfer nuclear and missile technologies to any would-be buyer, including, possibly to terrorist groups, as threatened twice by North Korean negotiators. The evidence is clear that in the past ten years, North Korea provided assistance to both Libya and Syria in efforts to develop nuclear weapons programs. There is also some evidence, albeit unconfirmed, that North Korea may also have been engaged in nuclear cooperation with Iran and Myanmar. Among these countries, Libya is no longer a customer. The Assad regime in Syria may also be on the way out. And Myanmar appears to be coming in from the cold. This leaves Iran as North Korea’s only reliable partner, but a very important one.
Some observers have alleged that the extensive cooperation between North Korea and Iran in the missile field also extends to their nuclear programs. Such cooperation would seem to have a compelling logic: North Korea has weapons-related technology in both plutonium reprocessing and uranium enrichment and building, and testing nuclear explosive devices, while Iran has the money and oil that North Korea needs. However, allegations of Iranian–North Korean nuclear cooperation have not been substantiated.
The IISS dossier saw no evidence that North Korea might trade away its nuclear arsenal for any diplomatic or economic gain. Rather, Pyongyang now speaks in terms of the US dealing with the DPRK as an equal nuclear state, even stating hopes of concluding a deal in the same way that the US did with India. Pyongyang now says that it is ‘unimaginable’ to expect it to return to the NPT as a ‘non-nuclear state’. It has also said that it will only feel no need to retain its nuclear weapons once the American ‘nuclear threat is removed and South Korea is cleared of its nuclear umbrella’. The first of these conditions is highly subjective and the second is very unlikely, as it would require the end of the US–South Korea alliance. It thus appears that Pyongyang perceives its nuclear weapons as a permanent feature. These themes were repeated by North Korean participants at an IISS seminar in late March.
In our dossier we argued that the dynastic succession that was beginning to unfold in Pyongyang and the uncertainties this entails exacerbate the potential for conflict. We said the designated successor will face severe disadvantages because of his lack of experience, his fragile power base, the political constraints on economic reform and the military’s role in politics. In almost all respects, the external and internal conditions are less favourable for this second generation succession than for the first dynastic transfer after the death of regime founder Kim Il-sung in 1994.
This could make North Korea an even more dangerous nation, more inclined to engage in further military provocations, to cling to its weapons of mass destruction and to offer them for sale to any would-be buyer. In pursuit of the goal of becoming a ‘strong and prosperous great nation’ by this year, such military capabilities are all that the regime can summon.
We also predicted that the death of Kim Jong-il will be a Moment of Truth and that he probably was in the last decade of his life. Well, that turned out to be true. We said : “ If Kim Jong-il dies in the next few years, there is no guarantee that without paternal protection his son will be successful in taking over, or even that the North Korean elite and system will hold together.” So far, so good, from Kim Jong-un’s point of view. Not that we predicted collapse; but we said collapse and ensuing Korean unification was a more distinct possibility.
It is too early to judge the succession a success. The fundamental crises that could cause a tipping point remain acute. North Korea’s moribund economy remains beset by contradictions. The leadership is fearful of introducing the market reforms that are necessary to escape their poverty trap. The nation is unable to feed its people, and is falling further behind all its neighbours every year. Moreover, the population increasingly realizes this, through various channels to the outside.
Leap Day Deal
On the foreign policy front, Kim Jong-un began his tenure with a massive miscalculation compounded by a humiliating technical failure. First there was a Leap Day agreement that appeared to auger well for the new leader’s foreign policy vision. Pyongyang agreed to a moratorium on nuclear tests and long-range missile launches and uranium enrichment activities at Yongbyon, with monitoring by the IAEA. In exchange, the US agreed to provide 240,000 tonnes of nutritional assistance, delivered over the course of 12 months.
The nuclear moratorium was incomplete in that North Korea did not undertake to stop work at other enrichment facilities outside Yongbyon. At least two such undeclared facilities must exist. There is suspicion that North Korea has produced highly enriched uranium at a secret site. Yet in other ways the agreement was too good to be true: 240,000 tonnes of food aid, worth about $200m, which the US might normally provide under humanitarian grounds in any case in exchange for a freeze of activities in both the nuclear and missile areas that provoked so much concern.
We did not predict North Korea would be willing to make such a deal. I am on record as saying after the death that Kim Jong-un would not be able to say no to veteran military officials who would want to conduct additional tests of both their nuclear devices and of missile systems. The military officers would want to ensure that strategic weapons reliably work. The last two nuclear tests were significantly smaller than the first tests of other nuclear states, which probably means they were a fizzle.
North Korea’s tests of medium-range missiles were also only partially successful, and it has two or more intermediate-range missile systems that it hasn’t tested at all: the Musudan and Nodong variants that were that was paraded in October 2010 and the prototype missile displayed in the 15 April parade.
So why did North Korea agree to a moratorium on further nuclear tests and long-range missile tests? When speaking at a seminar in London on Marcy 15, I said one answer may lie in the definition of “long-range missile launches.” I predicted trouble over this issue because North Korea does not consider space-launch rockets to be missiles. This was the case in April 2009, when North Korea launched the Unha-2, which was a slap in the face to the new Obama administration.
Space launches differ from ballistic-missile tests in their purpose and trajectory. But because satellite-launch rockets and ballistic missiles share the same bodies, engines, launch sites and other development processes, they are intricately linked. The satellite launch also provides missile-development information regarding propulsion, guidance and operational aspects. When I predicted trouble last Thursday, I didn’t it to happen so quickly. I thought at least North Korea would wait until after it received the 240,000 tons of nutritional assistance from the US. It was more honest that North Korea broke the deal before it received any of the aid.
Although the agreed language of the Leap Day Deal was ambiguous in saying only that the moratorium covered long-range missile launches, the United States “made clear unequivocally that they considered that any satellite launch would be a deal-breaker.
It is puzzling why North Korea carried out the space launch despite the obvious incongruity with the Leap Day deal. The answer seemed to be that Kim Jong-il had given the go-ahead for a launch before he died. In any weighing of policy priorities the nation’s ‘military first’ policy ensures that generals have the upper hand.
The greater mystery is why North Korea agreed to a deal to suspend long range missile launches, knowing one would soon take place is. If Kim Jong-un believed he could have both the deal and the launch because Obama would forgive the deceit, he was badly advised. And with the break-up of the rocket he got neither, demonstrating both inexperience and ineptitude.
It is easy to see events now playing out as they did three years ago, with a further escalation. In early April, satellite photos showed growing piles of dirt next to a previously used nuclear test shaft and the South Korean media speculated that North Korea was preparing to test a bomb using highly enriched uranium. The humiliation of the failed space launch seemingly added to the reasons for a third nuclear test: to it would be some means of demonstrating power. As of today, however, no test has taken place and there has been no further observable work at the test site for about a month.
Ending on a slightly optimistic note, it may just be possible that China’s diplomatic pressure may have helped dissuade North Korea from taking the further step of testing another nuclear weapon. Maybe it’s too much to ask for, but is it possible that Kim Jong-up has learned from his previous mistake?
Park Sun Young Speech– May 16th>
The Honourable Chair of this meeting, David Alton, and Director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Mark Fitzpatrick who have spared no efforts in organizing today’s meaningful seminar, and all our friends who have convened here, I am very glad to meet with all of you.
My name is Sun-Young Park, an assemblywoman in Liberty Forward Party of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea.
1. An abrupt death of Kim Jong-Il and the power succession
Since the abrupt death of Kim Jong-Il, the North Korean leader, on December 17th, 2011, the world has begun to focus on how it would affect the North Korean power structure and security in Northeast Asia.
His death was certainly one of the most significant issues to take place on the Korean peninsula last year.
It was a historical issue because the dictator had ruled North Korea with an iron fist for more than 37 years which is quite unprecedented in modern history.
His death attracted global attention even more because the Jasmine revolution, was sweeping through the Middle East at the time. It was spreading from Tunisia to other countries such as Algeria, Jordan, Yemen, Sudan, and eventually resulting in the ouster of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the dictator of 42 years in Libya.
From the perspective of its southern neighbor and the country which is still technically at war with North Korea, the death of Kim Jong-Il has been a critical issue in South Korea.
It was a matter of great interest whether it would turn out to be a stepping stone for reunification on the Korean peninsula or it would lead to another military clash due to the power struggle in the North.
At the same time, his death and its aftermath pose one of the most daunting challenges to the international community and Northeast Asian nations.
It is more so because Russia, the US, China and South Korea are facing a presidential election.
Therefore, neighboring countries of North Korea are keeping their eyes on the Korean peninsula after Kim Jong-Il’s death.
Suffering from a long illness, he was able to officially nominate Kim Jung-un, his third son, as his successor at North Korea’s Labor Party representatives meeting in September, 2010, one year before his death.
Then, concerned about his young successor, he prepared a double-protection structure. In order to hold the military, which has grown extremely powerful under the military-first policy, in check he completely restructured the North Korean Labor Party to restore some authorities back to the party.
At the same time, in order to check Jang Sung-Taek, who is a faithful guardian, but who has a highly concentrated power, Kim Jong-Il strategically positioned his loyal officials, Lee Young-Ho, Kim Jung-Gak, Kim Won-Hong, Woo Dong-Chun, Kim Young-Chun, Kim Ki-Nam, Choi Hae-Ryong, Joo Kyu-Chang,
and Choi Tae-Bok, within the military and the party.
Under such a double-protection structure, Kim Jung-un rapidly took control of the military and the intelligence agency. And when Kim Jong-Il died, he rose to power as planned.
As the young and inexperienced leader has recently taken the top post of military, the chief of Korean People’s Army, he has become the leader of the party, the military, and the state.
Kim Jung-un, out of necessity, continues to treat the military with respect. But, he seems to be implementing strategic measures to fundamentally change the power structure so the military could be controlled through the party as his father had envisioned for him.
After death of Kim Jong-Il, the list of a national funeral committee showed us that some military figures ranked high not because of their military posts, but because of their party posts, which analysts say is more evidence that Kim Jung-un is trying to alter the balance between the party and the military.
Some South Korean officials were concerned that any internal power struggle could lead to discord or turmoil in the ruling class but it does not appear to be happening, at least so far.
Surely, the North Korean authorities had tried to prevent the social unrest during the process of power succession by issuing a terrifying decree.
It stated that anyone who was caught during the 100-day mourning period for Kim Jong-IL would be considered as traitors and his family members of three generations would be executed.
Consequently, for now, the Kim Jung-un regime is believed to have stabilized safely.
In other words, Kim Jung-un, the third generation of the Kim family, seems to have succeeded in solidifying his power by emphasizing the greatness and divineness of the family.
It was possible due to its unique isolation and a tight control over its people.
Each evening, every citizen is required to attend a meeting which forces them to criticize themselves under the pretext of learning. They also have to keep a close eye on each other five households grouped into a unit. If one shows any strange sign, they are placed in what is called “correctional facility” or a labour camp and suffer horrible punishment.
However, North Korea is showing signs of change, different from its past.
As the rationing system and public education started to collapse in the late 1990s, North Koreans began to learn capitalism at the market.
In particular, people who conducts business across the borders with China or who have their family members or relatives defected from North Korea, are emerging as a big hand in the market. Now, they have come to possess their own cell phones.
Through that, information began to flow into North Korea which had been a perfectly isolated community.
To strengthen this phenomenon, South Korean politicians, North Korean defectors, and NGOs have provided radios and flown balloons with leaflets containing various information on them.
Thanks to their efforts, North Koreans were able to shift their eyes and ears toward the outside world. A growing influx of information from the outside will eventually help bring a transition to a society.
That encouraged people to defect from their nation more than ever. North Korea, stunned at this sudden turnabout, began to carry out executions at public places instead of political prisoner camps.
Against this backdrop, North Korean human rights issue began to rise around the world.
2. the Transition of North Korea from “a Gigantic Prison” and the Changes with China
In a nutshell, we can say that North Korea itself is a huge prison.
I think that such a condition that created numerous North Korean defectors despite its heinous decrees.
More over, their defecting style has changed from the past. In the past most of them defected alone due to hunger.
But now they defect in a family unit to improve the quality of their lives. North Korea began to be embarrassed of this change and as a result, they ended up issuing such terrible decrees. In spite of those efforts, it brought about many more defectors. They exposed the dismal conditions and the inhumane treatments they experienced during the escape from North Korea and the repatriation from China. The severe violations of human rights have prompted controversies in the international community.
In this situation China is faced with a dilemma.
At first China tried to help the North Korean authorities, hoping its power succession goes well. However, it seems to have shifted its position toward North Korea facing pressure from the international community.
It cannot stand by North Korea blindly as it has in the past.
China maintained a silence when the UN Resolution on the Situation of Human Rights in the DPRK was adopted in the UN Human Rights Council in May. It demanded neither opponent discussion or a vote at the meeting. It was surprising!
In addition, when the Chinese president, Hu Jin-tao visited Sout Korea in late March, he publicly criticized saying that North Korea should take a responsibility for its people. Such a strong remark was not seen before.
And then, it sent some defectors, who had been detained in the Korean embassy, along with the families of prisoners of war to South Korea.
The decision was made quickly.
Once China’s attitude seemed to have changed, North Korea pulled out the nuclear card again.
3. the Kim Jung-un Regime and Nuclear Capability
Nuclear capability meant everything for North Korea even during the regimes of its founder Kim Il-Seung and his son Kim Jong-Il.
The nuclear card was the only thing when it comes to threatening the U.S. or the international community.
For that nuclear capability, North Korea left millions of their people to starve to death.
Unfortunately, it is the most useful tool for the Kim Jung-un regime as well.
If the U.S. brought the issue of human rights to the negotiation table with North Korea, North Korea would have collapsed a long time ago. However, the nations of the six-party talk including the U.S., Russia, Japan were not able to grasp the true nature of North Korea. They assumed incorrectly that it is a nation ruled by a reasonable and rational dictator.
Many times they were taken advantage of by North Korea, but they were only able to identify its tactics such as Salami tactics or brinkmanship but they did not understand its true character.
Anyway, North Korea launched rockets toward the world as soon as Kim Jung-un took power.
The fact that it failed does not diminish its threat.
North Korea has succeeded in making its presence felt in the world.
And now the talk of the third nuclear test is in the air again.
No one at this point believes that Kim Jung-un would give up its nuclear ambitions and dismantle the current nuclear facilities.
Officially, the U.S. does not recognize North Korea as a nuclear state but the internal documents from the Pentagon suggest otherwise. Experts speak with one voice that North Korea has acquired both plutonium and enriched uranium.
The amount of cost that DPRK spent on its rocket launched last April is approximately equivalent to the amount of money it would take to feed its entire population for one and a half year.
Then, why does North Korea obsess with nuclear weapons at the cost of starving its own people?
It is because it believes the only and the last measure left for North Korea to ensure the survival of its regime.
Hoping that North Korea would reform and open up to the outside is a sheer fantasy.
In order to reform, it has to give up the nuclear capability.
However, the North Korean regime simply cannot discard its nuclear card.
No matter how many people starve, the Kim’s regime would never abandon it. It is because the moment it does, the dictatorship would collapse.
For the same reason, the Lee Myong-Bak administration’s policy, which has demanded reforms and the opening-up of North Korea as the preconditions, was doomed to fail from the beginning.
Economic crisis causes alienation from its people but it can still rule the nation as if running a huge prison. However, the North Korean authorities are well aware of the fact that if it goes ahead with economic and political reforms, the foundation of the dictatorship would break down.
At the same time the abandonment of nuclear capabilities could result in its citizens demanding more political rights. And that would spell the end of the Kim Jung-un regime as it has been in the case of Qaddafi of Libya.
Consequently North Korea will never give up its nuclear ambition.
4. the Future of the Kim Jung-un Regime
At this point, despite the seeming stability of regime succession in North Korea, one should focus on largely two different aspects in order to judge whether Kim’s grip on power will last in a long-run.
One is nuclear capabilities and the other is the economic hardship.
The problem is that they are both unfavorable factors for the Kim Jong-un regime.
For the success of the Kim Jong-un regime, it should break away from the military-first policies and turn to the economy-first policies. But since this political line is contradictory to the dying instructions of Kim Jong-Il, North Korea cannot adopt the economy-first policies.
It is only possible when Kim Jung-un denies the legitimacy of his father’s instructions. Therefore, it is highly likely that the military-first politics will continue to be its governing ideology for the time being.
Consequently South Korea will constantly face military threats.
If those military threats cause uneasiness within South Korea, the length of Kim Jong-un regime will be extended a little longer.
South Korea experienced democratization and industrialization within the short time period of fifty years and has joined the ranks of the world’s top 20 economic powers. But it is very vulnerable to military tensions.
Moreover, as the system of dictatorship and the military-first policies are well implemented so far, it is not likely that the Kim Jong-un regime will get involved in power struggles in a short term.
However, possibilities of power struggles always exist due to the diverse interests and the imbalance of power distribution among the ruling coalition. In particular, since North Korean power group consists of inner circle, the possibility of power struggles is relatively high. Therefore, the result will be visible in two or three years.
For the young leader, Kim Jong-un, he has no choice but to follow the instructions of his predecessors, Kim Il-Seung and Kim Jong-Il.
Since he lacks the experience in governing and his power consolidation yet incomplete, he cannot suggest policies independently. From his position, following his father’s policies is more advantageous rather than taking an unnecessary risk by fundamentally changing nuclear and economic policies. Of course there is no one among the ruling elites who has the power to suggest fundamental changes or who could handle the fallouts when those attempts fail.
Therefore, it is highly likely that Kim Jong-un would maintain the Kim Jong-Il-style control and the planned economy and seek ways to solve the economic crisis by attracting foreign investment and exclusive industrial zones.
Consequently, Kim Jung-un will stick to its nuclear ambitions and maintain its current economic policies to the end. In the meantime, human rights will be violated in North Korea more seriously than before.
And North Korea will carry out the third nuclear test within this year.
The North Korean authorities carried out the first nuclear test on October 9th, 2006 and the second nuclear test on May 26th, 2009 while the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718 was in act. North Korea has no respect for the international society and its opinion.
No, the more the international community tries to discourage North Korea from advancing its nuclear ambitions, the more North Korea tends to gamble with the survival of its regime on the line.
In 2012, five nations from the nuclear talks including South Korea, the U.S., China, and Russia are facing presidential elections and general elections. It can be a high time for North Korea to carry out another nuclear test, because its neighboring nations will be focusing on domestic politics before the elections. In other words, the security in Northeast Asia can be particularly vulnerable this year. The North Korean leadership will never miss this chance.
The U.N. Security Council resolution 1874, adopted after the second nuclear test, will also fail to deter North Korea’s desire to conduct its next nuclear test.
What is more worrisome is that there are not that many additional sanctions left to deter North Korea should it test again.
Moreover, North Korea, having been isolated from the outside world for more than two decades, has come up with its own survival skills. It is to force its citizens to beg in the outside world.
Against this survival strategy, there is no reasonable and legal means for the international community to enforce sanctions.
In conclusion, North Korean national affairs will be affected by how stable the Kim Jung-un regime is and the overall direction its policies take.
From the perspective of behavior level, the instable condition of the power will continue until Kim Jung-un’s power consolidation succeeds to the extent that he can remove members of the ruling coalition.
In addition, even after Kim Jung-un stabilizes his grip on power, his regime would face regime instability due to the nuclear issue.
Therefore, the question depends on how accurately the western community understands North Korea’s internal affairs and how we can find the measures to put pressure on North Korea, lastly how we can speak with one voice.
Now we have to realize the fact that the only key we have is to raise human rights issues with North Korea.
North Korea is a member of the United Nations. As a member of the U.N., we should continue to ask North Korea to comply with duties in accordance with the U.N. constitution and various UN conventions on human rights. That will be the only sure way to improve the lives of North Koreans and to encourage North Korea to be a normal state again.