2017-07-05 18:27
N. Korea seeking to forestall S. Korea's lead in talks
By Kim Jae-kyoung


North Korea is seeking to forestall South Korea’s attempt to take a leadership role in nuclear talks by using its missile technology as leverage, according to experts on the North.

They said that the latest test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) has made it clear that Pyongyang led by its young leader Kim Jong-un will never give up its ambition to become a nuclear weapons state.

The views came as the North successfully test-fired an alleged ICBM, Monday, following a summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump last week, and ahead of the G20 summit slated for July 7 to 8.

“Kim wants the U.S.’s and world’s acknowledgement that his country is a nuclear weapons state as the next step,” Tara O, an adjunct fellow at the Washington-based Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), told The Korea Times.

“As such, it would want to exclude South Korea from talks and deal directly with the U.S.,” she said.

Trump is supportive of Moon's strategy proposed at the summit, under which Seoul will take more of a leadership role in opening dialogue with Pyongyang, and Washington will actively participate.

In her view, one of North Korea’s efforts has been to portray South Korea as a U.S. puppet in order to claim legitimacy over the entire Korean Peninsula. 

“Dealing directly with the U.S. without South Korea delegitimizes the South Korean government while Pyongyang tries to force a U.S. military withdrawal from South Korea,” she said.

Analysts said the latest provocation carries significance in that it came just after the two allies completed a successful summit in Washington and pledged to work together against the North’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

Katy Oh, a U.S.-based researcher at the Institute for Defense Analysis, said North Korea tested the missile to send three key messages to the world, particularly the U.S.

First, North Korea will continue doing what it plans to do. Second, the time to test is up to itself and not anyone else. Lastly, U.S.-South Korea bilateral, or U.S.-South Korea-Japan trilateral cooperation will not make it stop doing what it wants to do.

“The intention is two-fold. The first is to work on missiles and nuclear weapons until North Korea reaches its ultimate strategic goal; and the second is to show that Kim is not intimidated by anyone else,” she said.

Given that the world is uniting forces to increase pressure on North Korea, the development of long-range missiles and nuclear weapons is the last resort that Kim can rely on to keep his regime going.

In other words, Kim has no choice but to push forward with his nuclear brinkmanship to ensure internal control as well as international recognition.

“North Korea has been taking steps to extend the range of its ballistic missiles and the successful ICBM test sends a message to leaders in Washington and the region that Pyongyang will not be deterred,” said Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association.

“But these tests are not solely focused on an international audience,” she added. “Kim Jong-un uses missile advancements to solidify his leadership and send a message to the North Korean people about the country's strength and technical prowess.”

In particular, it is important to note that the pace of missile tests has picked up, according to the analysts.

North Korea has already conducted 11 missile tests this year. Last year, there were five missiles tests, and just one a year in 2013, 2014, and 2015. 

“The accelerated pace of testing shows Kim’s intent to develop, in the quickest manner possible, a nuclear-tipped ICBM that can reach the U.S.,” O of the CSIS said.

“The ultimate goal of North Korea has not changed,” she added. “It does not want the U.S. to hamper its long-term goal of unifying the Korean Peninsula under its own system.”


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