Seeking a New Partner from Pyongyang, Instead of Kim Jong Il

[imText1]Kim Jong Il regime’s condition for survival can be classified into three; 1) absolute control over military, 2) harsh regulation of people, and 3) isolation from the international community.

These conditions are easily observed through Kim’s internal and external policies so far. However, as North Korea’s economic crisis and Kim’s personal financial status get worsened the regime becomes inevitable to request aid from outside.

The Kim Jong Il regime, which already lost its ability to self-reliance, is in a dilemma as to whether it keeps the three survival conditions or weakens the conditions through transaction with the outside community. To Kim Jong Il, relationship from outside is a double-edged sword. In order to breakthrough the deadlock, Kim developed a ‘cooling strategy.’ He cools down the external relationship, periodically, by launching missiles and developing nuclear weapons.

Expected effect of ‘cooling strategy’ includes;

1. The regime is able to gain more stable and safe benefit from cooling strategy than from normal relationship with the outside. Normal economic transaction with the international community would threaten the regime’s tight control over its people and weaken the isolationism.

2. The cooling strategy increases the level of tension and fear among the North Korean public. And therefore popular control becomes more effective. Kim Jong Il learned this from decades of his experience.

3. Kim Jong Il’s hawkish stance against the international community through ‘cooling strategy’ creates a defiant image of him, so firm control over North Korean military can be maintained.

Launching missiles and development of nuclear weapon are at least rational decision by Kim Jong Il. The problem is that current international politics, diplomatic relations in East Asia, security regime around the Korean Peninsula, inter-Korean relationship, change of consciousness among North Korean people, and South Korean and World opinion, all of the above have transformed so radically that if Kim Jong Il relies too much on his past experiences then his regime is doomed to collapse.

Legacy of the current missile crisis on Kim Jong Il

The Kim Jong Il regime gained several benefits from its missile launch. Externally, he reaffirmed his existence as a dangerous being to the world. Internally, Kim Jong Il successfully tightened his control over the people. Tempo of inter-Korean talks is more easily regulated and the military are secured. Nonetheless, in terms of the Kim Jong Il regime’s survival, the missile crisis is damaging rather than beneficial overall.

First of all, North Korea is humiliated. The core of this experiment, launching of the Daepodong-2, is failed. So far, international community has regarded North Korea as a hermit sorcerer with indescribable supernatural power. However, since the failure of Daepodong-2 such image is disappeared. There have been several disgraceful incidents for North Korea when North Korean diplomats were involved in drug trafficking, but the missile incident is the first such case that embarrassed North Korea militarily.

There is a report that Iranian delegates observed the missile launching experiment. Of course, North Korea would not dare to sell the Daepodong-2, an inter-continental ballistic missile, to Iran. The United States will never allow the Iranians, who are related to various terrorist organizations in the Middle East, to own ICBM. Yet North Korea’s reputation of missile technology is defamed a lot after the failure. In a longer term, North Korean missile business is expected to be hampered.

Secondly, the missile incident forced South Korean government into a delicate situation. South Korean government’s dovish faction, which has called for more aid and deeper economic relationship with North Korea, is now in an awkward position. And among the South Korean public, those who had been neither pro-North Korea nor anti-North Korea are alienated.

Thirdly, North Korean-Chinese friendship is impaired. Beijing warned North Korea not to launch missile in advance, publicly. It was unprecedented. Nevertheless, North Korea fired missile anyway. Even though North Korea has never been an obedient ally to China, the international community regarded China as an ‘older brother’ of North Korea. As a result of the missile incident, that notion is gone nowhere and Beijing’s status as an effective arbitrator is damaged.

China’s vote for UN Security Council’s resolution on North Korea shows how worsened the Sino-North Korean relationship is. On the Kim Jong Il regime’s perspective, Sino-North Korean relationship is a life-and-death significance, but if Kim Jong Il keeps his brinkmanship diplomacy, it is possible that Beijing will abandon Kim Jong Il eventually. This is fatal to Pyongyang.

Last but not least, the missile incident embarrassed pro-Kim Jong Il faction in South Korea. Before the incident several pro-Kim Jong Il leftists argued that the missile launching was actually for putting a satellite into orbit. And some others even blamed the United States for false information that North Korea, which had no intention whatsoever to launch a missile, would do so. These people are now in awkward situation and have become unreliable to the South Korean public. It is needless to say that losing supporters in Seoul is detrimental for Kim Jong Il.

Besides, since international economic sanction on North Korea is strengthened, North Korean economy and people’s life will face more difficult. Also, hawkish policy over North Korea gained more popularity in the US and Japan, which might result in Kim Jong Il regime’s demise. Overall, the missile launching incident is more harmful than helpful to Kim Jong Il.

Then why he launched missile?

There are many interpretations of North Korea’s missile launching activity. Some scholars analyzed that there is a profound strategic and tactical reason for firing missile. However, as mentioned above, there is no complicated objective or purpose. Rather, it seems more likely that Kim Jong Il decided without much thought or deep reasoning. Dictatorship is vulnerable to irrational policy decisions and North Korea is the most obvious example.

First, Kim Jong Il seems like losing concentration and judgment due to aging. His father Kim Il Sung also lost his judgment as he turned to sixties and Kim Jong Il repeats same failure. Inter-Korean relationship lost in incoherence, openness and reformation policy that only wasted time amid confusion, instability of successor issue, all of the above prove Kim Jong Il’s loss of his judgment.

Second, there left only sycophants around Kim Jong Il. And even if there is a sincere and knowledgeable advisor, the atmosphere in Kim’s circle is against him/her to express one’s opinion freely.

Third, as the military-first politics is emphasized, balance of power between military and civil members of Kim Jong Il’s entourage group is upset.

Fourth, most dictators lose their taste in policymaking with much consideration and pressure. Kim Jong Il seems following that track.

The Kim Jong Il regime is now unable to prove its politico-economic capacity to keep its own government. Since it became evermore difficult to do criminal activities such as drug-trafficking, selling fake dollar bills, and missile export, the Kim Jong Il regime’s source of fund is exhausted. And the regime’s last resort, aid from Beijing and Seoul, is no more supportive. In conclusion, Kim Jong Il rather gambled away his fortune because of his missile betting.

The Kim Jong Il regime’s chance to breakthrough on economic crisis and inter-Korean relationship is even lower. North Korea’s neighbor countries as South Korea, China and the U.S must seek another partner in North Korea. And, with a new, democratic partner in Pyongyang, they should start a reformation and opening of North Korea and embark on a project of peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.