North Korean media outlets such as Rodong Sinmun have recently been reporting that North Korea’s “status” on the international stage is on the rise after testing a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).

An Oct. 4 Rodong Sinmun editorial used a decent-sounding phrase to extol the SLBM launch, saying it allowed North Korea to “soar into space” and “look down at the world.”   

North Korea has long boasted that its nuclear weapons can be attached to intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs); now North Korean leaders are blustering that because they can launch SLBMs from under the sea, they have more or less placed a time bomb on the back of the United States and South Korea. 

North Korean state-run media, however, is not telling North Koreans that their reckless provocations are actually making the country more isolated internationally. Indeed, the launch of the SLBM did not see North Korea’s status “soar into space” by any measure. 

On Oct. 5, working-level negotiations between North Korea and the US broke down after eight hours in Stockholm, Sweden. The talks had taken place seven months after the failed US-North Korean summit in Hanoi. It is reasonable to expect that diplomatic negotiations can sometimes be successful or sometimes just break down. 

Three days after the negotiations broke down, however, only the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported the failure of the working-level talks. KCNA ran the story on its Internet website, but North Koreans do not have free access to the Internet. Ultimately, North Korean leaders decided not to report news of the failure through outlets read and watched by many North Koreans such as Rodong Sinmun and Korean Central TV (KCTV). 

What’s more, the United Kingdom, France and Germany called an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting to denounce North Korea’s testing of the SLBM. Additional sanctions may be placed on North Korea because of the launch. North Korea, however, is threatening that if the US does not accept its proposals in the working-level negotiations “a horrific incident might occur.”

What North Korea means by the phrase “horrific incident” appears to refer to the restart of ICBM tests. Despite North Korea’s threats, the US position is unlikely to change and the international community will likely slap additional sanctions on the country.  

Since the first US-North Korean summit in Singapore, North Korea has been demanding that the US lift sanctions and cancel US-South Korean military exercises. The US is unlikely to abandon its position that North Korea must promise to completely denuclearize first before the US lifts sanctions.  

North Korea continues to use brinkmanship tactics to get what it wants, but these tactics are outdated and no longer work. In fact, North Korean leaders need to rapidly sign an agreement with the US. 

In accordance with United Nations sanctions, North Korean workers overseas must return home by December. Inside North Korea, there is an increasing desire to make a compromise with the US to defer the recall of North Korean workers abroad.

North Korean leaders know about the rising groundswell of support for a compromise with the US in their country. That is why they did not tell their people the disappointing news that the working-level negotiations broke down. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, however, does not want to abandon his nuclear weapons arsenal, which makes compromise with the US on denuclearization impossible. In the end, only ordinary North Koreans will suffer from the sanctions while North Korean leaders continue to adhere to a position that will make compromise with the US inconceivable.

Kim Jong Un knows that he cannot use his ICMBs or SLBMs against South Korea or the US. If he does, North Korea would be obliterated. North Korean leaders have no other choice but this: stop developing missiles and courageously move forward with implementing full denuclearization.

Please find Thae Yong Ho’s previous column on North Korea’s voicing of support for China’s stance on the Hong Kong demonstrations here

*Translated by Yongmin Lee

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