The dictator wants to negotiate with South Korea, at the same time he warns the USA. This strategy pursues at least three objectives.
South Korea’s government did not have much time to react to the offer of talks from the north: Association Secretary Cho Myong-gyon said on Tuesday that they were “ready for talks regardless of time, place and format”. He called on the North to hold a “high-level meeting” in Panmunjom, a step that was apparently coordinated with Washington, next Tuesday. North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un had said in his New Year’s speech that they were ready for talks and were considering sending athletes to the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. At the same time, the young dictator warned the USA: North Korea’s nuclear weapons are a fact, not a threat.
Kim’s advance may seem surprising, but it was by no means unexpected. In each of his six New Year’s speeches, the dictator addressed Seoul with offers of reconciliation – and threatened the US with more confidence from year to year.
Kim pursues at least three goals with this strategy: Firstly, it needs a way out of the current crisis that allows it to save face. In Seoul, one suspects that if talks are actually taking place, the North could make its participation in Pyeongchang dependent on the abolition of sanctions. South Korea’s Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon even fears that North Korea wants to be recognized as a nuclear power by the South.
Secondly, Kim could afford to forego further missile and nuclear testing. Although many experts believe the statements about the alleged capacity of its missiles to be massively exaggerated and accuse Pyongyang of bluffing, world public opinion has agreed to see North Korea as a serious threat to the United States. As he says, Kim has thus achieved his goal. “North Korea is trying to pretend to the West that it has better weapons than it actually has,”said Lance Gatling, a leading American rocket expert, recently in Tokyo.
Gatling doubts that North Korea is able to measure a trajectory, i. e. to learn from its “tests”. Nor does it have the precision instruments needed for precise missiles. “So far, North Korea has shown it can hit the Pacific. How accurate is that?”, mocks the aerospace engineer. Georgiy Toloraja of Russia’s “Academy of Sciences” believes Kim’s statement that the weapons program is complete is “visibly premature”.
Thirdly, Kim cannot have any interest in bringing the South Koreans even more up against him. In the long term, North Korea needs the economic aid of the South that Kim would disrupt the Olympic Games, which is why most South Koreans considered unlikely. He is more likely to use the games for himself and at the same time try to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington. His grandfather had often appealed to the subliminal anti-Americanism of the South Korean left.
Kim’s nuclear weapons are all he has”
Brad Glosserman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), who has already represented the US in informal negotiations with North Korea, says:”No one believes that Kim will abandon his nuclear weapons. Not in Japan, not in China, not in South Korea. And not in North Korea anyway.” The survival of his regime depended on them, as did his personal life. “They’re all he’s got.” Future negotiations would, therefore, be about accepting North Korea’s limited nuclear capacity for the time being without recognizing it as a nuclear power. With Pakistan’s atomic bomb, the world has also learned to live.
The Russian Toloraja, who was stationed twice as a diplomat in Pyongyang, states that North Korea does not yet have a nuclear doctrine. The officials in Pyongyang have no idea yet of how and why North Korea intends to use its nuclear weapons. Nor are they aware of the political implications of their long-range missiles. From his talks in Pyongyang, Toloraja concludes that despite the prevailing mistrust for a diplomatic solution, it is not too late. Both sides could, for example, gradually freeze the potential threat and reduce it later. However, it would require stronger leadership by the USA, which admits that North Korea’s policy to date has failed, says the Russian Toloraja. He concludes:”After all, it would be better to live with a nuclear but peaceful Korean peninsula than for Northeast Asia to sink into war.”