Kim Jong-il's military-first policy a silver bullet

Posted in Koreas | 05-Jan-07 | Author: Kim Myong Chol| Source: Asia Times

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (C) inspects the command unit of Korean People's Army unit 109 at an undisclosed location in North Korea.

The military-first policy, now in its 12th year, is a well-known international symbol for Kim Jong-il and his Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). Twelve years may be sufficient for a report card. A look at what Kim has done during that time indicates beyond doubt that this policy has been a silver bullet.

Kim officially launched the military-first policy on January 1, 1995. The DPRK has built up such a nuclear deterrence that it does not need any form of US security guarantee any longer. As the nuclear test last October 9 demonstrated, the DPRK is now a de jure nuclear-weapons state, the fourth-most-powerful after the United States, Russia and China.

Not to recognize the DPRK as a nuclear state is something like refusing to call a person armed with a gun a gunman.

On September 9, the founding anniversary of the DPRK, Dr Mitchell B Reiss, former director for policy planning at the US State Department and currently vice provost for international affairs at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, spoke at the fourth Global Strategic Review of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies:

Perhaps the least noted and most astonishing aspect of the entire diplomatic process involving North Korea during the past few years has been the almost complete inability of four of the world's strongest military and economic powers, including three nuclear-weapons states and three members of the UN Security Council - the United States, China and Russia - and Japan to shape the strategic environment in Northeast Asia. They have [proved] thoroughly incapable of preventing an impoverished, dysfunctional country of only 23 million people from consistently endangering the peace and stability of the world's most economically dynamic region. This has been nothing less than a collective failure.

While international-relations theorists can debate how this remarkable reversal of the standard measures of power and powerlessness could occur, North Korea's gains have come at the expense, not least, of the United States. Washington has suffered setbacks to its major policy objectives in the region and globally.
Achievement 1: Neutralization of US nuclear umbrella
One of the 5,000-year-old aspirations of the Korean people is to acquire powerful national defenses equipped with long-range deep-strike capabilities of hitting the enemy's heartland and turning it into a sea of fire, instead of letting Korea become a war theater. For the first time in Korean history, Kim Jong-il has fulfilled this historic aspiration as he has put the Korean Peninsula under North Korea's own nuclear umbrella, neutralizing the US nuclear umbrella.

In other words, North Korea under Kim has emerged as a de jure nuclear-weapons state with deep-strike capabilities, making it totally unnecessary to seek written US security assurances. The risk of war has begun to disappear from the Korea Peninsula as Kim is now one click away from torching the skyscrapers of New York and other cities in the metropolitan USA or Tokyo into scenes of towering conflagrations. Dangun Wanggeom, Jumong, Yon Kyesomun, Ulchi Mundok and Li Sun-sin would be delighted at the great feat of Kim Jong-il. Any new war involving Korea is certain to be waged mainly on the US mainland or Japan.

As a result of the US invasion of Iraq, civilian casualties are numerous and material losses are beyond description. Thus the US thinks twice before striking the DPRK. The US is afraid of engaging North Korea after its missile and nuclear tests.

The United Nations sanctions imposed on the DPRK for conducting missile tests and a nuclear test have lost much of their effect.

In an article titled "Too soft, too soon", the major British newspaper The Financial Times noted on November 22:
Christopher Hill, Washington's chief negotiator for North Korea, declared boldly that the world was not going to live with a nuclear North Korea. These now look like empty words. Amid the turmoil in the Middle East, the attempts to curb another nuclear program - this one in Iran - and the change of power in the US Congress after the mid-term elections, the North Korean threat has been all but forgotten.
The host of Japan's Asahi TV program Saturday Scramble aired on December 2 lamented, "Regrettably, the things are moving in a way Kim Jong-il desires."

The Washington Post in its December 31 editorial noted: "At the time the regime of Kim Jong-il appeared to be calculating that it would not suffer severe consequences for its provocation and that the world would eventually accept it as a nuclear power, as India and Pakistan have been accepted. Sadly, that logic is beginning to look justified."

Joseph Nye, former US assistant secretary of defense and currently dean of the Kennedy School of Administration, Harvard University, noted in his contribution to the March 12, 2003, Los Angeles Times:
The decision to focus on Iraq rather than North Korea shows that deterrence works, but in this case what it shows is North Korea's ability to deter the United States. With more than 11,000 artillery tubes hidden in caves in the Demilitarized Zone, North Korea can devastate Seoul even without weapons of mass destruction. This reality prevented the Clinton administration from executing a preemptive strike against North Korea's nuclear facilities at Yongbyon in 1994.

The result is that now the people of the DPRK, who would have long ago gone mad after being exposed to more than 50 years of nuclear blackmail, have remained sane and are overflowing with confidence of prevailing over the US, and have rallied closer behind Kim Jong-il.

Achievement 2: Successful fight against isolation
Kim Jong-il's military-first policy has splendidly broken through the international isolation imposed on it by the US and made the Bush Doctrine of nuclear preemption senseless.

CNN last September 13 quoted former president Jimmy Carter saying: "And I also met with General Gary Luck, who was an American commander of all forces, South Korea, and American forces in South Korea. General Luck told me that his opinion was that more than a million people would be killed almost overnight if North Korea did respond to punishment of them. So I decided to go to North Korea."

North Korea put into orbit a satellite on August 31, 1998, three years after the launch of the military-first policy. The US responded with the Perry Report in October 1999, calling for North Korea to be accepted as it was. This prompted European countries to rush to seek ties with the DPRK despite its nuclear and missile programs.

The DPRK established diplomatic relations with Italy in January 2000, restored ties with Australia that May, restarted negotiations with Japan on establishing diplomatic relations in August, had General Cho Myong-rok sign the DPRK-US Joint Communique in October, saw US secretary of state Madeleine Albright visiting Pyongyang, established full diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Belgium in January 2001, Canada and Spain that February, Germany, Luxembourg, Greece, Brazil and New Zealand in March, Kuwait in April, Bahrain and the European Union in May, Turkey in June 2001 and Ireland in December 2003. The DPRK has a permanent delegation in Paris.

The DPRK has full diplomatic relations with Canada to the north of the US and with Mexico to its south. Those who refuse to have relations with the DPRK are only the US and Japan.

Achievement 3: Positive growth
According to conventional thinking, the North Korean economy is supposed to tail off and eventually fall apart under the weight of the military-first policy. All the country's foreign-currency revenues are supposed to be diverted to the military. Added to this are financial sanctions by the US and UN sanctions for the missile tests and the nuclear test. However, this is not the case.

The Korean People's Army (KPA), highly moralized, disciplined and equipped with nuclear weapons, keeps the US forces at bay, letting the North Korean population engage in economic, socio-cultural and sports activities without any worries about war. It is also playing a crucial role in pushing ahead with economic construction.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry acknowledges that the DPRK has continued to register positive growth rates since 1996, the year after the launch of the military-first policy. July 2002 saw introduction of landmark socialist-type market economic practices, adding spurs to the economic recovery.

Last September, the Citibank group presented an economic report on North Korea to US Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson, noting: "North Korea's economic reforms are probably broadly comparable to those in China in the mid- to late 1980s. In some areas, such as foreign-exchange-rate policy, North Korea is probably already beyond the China of the early 1990s. Actual progress in economic reforms has been way beyond our expectations." It concludes that "a foundation is there" for North Korea to join its neighbors as rapidly growing tiger economies. This is why "a few pioneering economists, analysts and businessmen believe the regime is taking tentative steps towards building Asia's next tiger economy".

Particular mention should be made of the fact that while the Chinese succeeded in economic reforms only after normalization with the United States, the North Koreans have posted a dramatic economic recovery by means of the military-first policy, despite critical handicaps such as the continuing state of war with the US and sanctions imposed by the Americans.

Dr Kenneth Quinones notes in the September issue of Japan's authoritative monthly Sekai ("World"): "North Korea has grown economically and [militarily] much stronger than when [US President George W] Bush took over." The Associated Press reported on November 4: "In the midst of tensions over North Korea's nuclear program, a Western company is there searching for oil. Another just bought a bank."

Successes in national defense and the economy have led North Koreans to make impressive showings in international sports. In 1996, the year after the launch of the military-first policy, Kye Sun-hi won a gold medal in judo by overwhelming Japan's Tamura Ryoko. The North Korean female soccer team became the first Korean team ever to capture a world title in that sport.

Achievement 4: Virtual state of commuter marriage
For the first time in 55 years, the military-first policy helped Kim Jong-il bore a great hole in the 38th Parallel that the US had wielded the nuclear threat to draw, separating the soil of Dangun Korea into two. It resulted in great headway in North-South Korean rapprochement and a virtual state of commuter marriage and quasi-reunification for the first time since the August 1945 liberation of Korea from colonial rule.

The June 13-15, 2000, Pyongyang summit that ended with the June 15 Pyongyang Declaration was an obvious product of the military-first policy in that it was prompted by the Perry Report. Kim Jong-il's special envoy General Cho Myong-rok visited Washington and won the Bill Clinton administration's unequivocal endorsement of the Pyongyang Declaration.

At the Pyongyang summit it was decided to reconnect the railway lines across the Demilitarized Zone. The DMZ is divided into a northern 2-kilometer sector administered by the KPA and a southern 2km sector administered by the UN Command. In a bid to set up railway lines in the southern sector, the South Korean Command asked the UN Command temporarily to transfer administration of the southern sector, but in vain.

The South Koreans were on the verge of losing any competence in implementing the Pyongyang Declaration when the KPA intervened. A KPA officer met with a UN Command officer at a November 17, 2000, conference, and persuaded it to transfer the administration of the southern sector of the DMZ to the South Korean armed forces. It was an open secret that many South Korean officers praised the KPA intervention.

Kim Myong-chol is author of a number of books and papers in Korean, Japanese and English on North Korea. He is executive director of the Center for Korean-American Peace. He has a PhD from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's Academy of Social Sciences and is often called an "unofficial" spokesman of Kim Jong-il and North Korea.