Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aid, and Reform

28 06 2009

Haggard_Noland book coverby Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland
Paper, 368 pages, 59 illus.
ISBN: 978-0-231-14001-0

In the mid-1990s, as many as one million North Koreans died in one of the worst famines of the twentieth century. The socialist food distribution system collapsed primarily because of a misguided push for self-reliance, but was compounded by the regime’s failure to formulate a quick response-including the blocking of desperately needed humanitarian relief.

As households, enterprises, local party organs, and military units tried to cope with the economic collapse, a grassroots process of marketization took root. However, rather than embracing these changes, the North Korean regime opted for tentative economic reforms with ambiguous benefits and a self-destructive foreign policy. As a result, a chronic food shortage continues to plague North Korea today.

In their carefully researched book, Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland present the most comprehensive and penetrating account of the famine to date, examining not only the origins and aftermath of the crisis but also the regime’s response to outside aid and the effect of its current policies on the country’s economic future. Their study begins by considering the root causes of the famine, weighing the effects of the decline in the availability of food against its poor distribution. Then it takes a close look at the aid effort, addressing the difficulty of monitoring assistance within the country, and concludes with an analysis of current economic reforms and strategies of engagement.

North Korea’s famine exemplified the depredations that can arise from tyrannical rule and the dilemmas such regimes pose for the humanitarian community, as well as the obstacles inherent in achieving economic and political reform. To reveal the state’s culpability in this tragic event is a vital project of historical recovery, one that is especially critical in light of our current engagement with the “North Korean question.”

About the Author
Stephan Haggard is the Lawrence and Sallye Krause Professor at the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of Pathways from the Periphery; The Political Economy of Democratic Transitions (with Robert Kaufman); and The Political Economy of the Asian Financial Crisis. Marcus Noland is a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a senior fellow at the East-West Center. He has served as an occasional consultant to such organizations as the World Bank and the National Intelligence Council.

Tension with North Korea escalates towards war

23 06 2009

USS MissouriLeonid Petrov’s interview to SBS World View program (22 Jun 2009) 

A specialist on North Korea is warning that the United States is edging closer to a military confrontation with the communist country.

Dr Leonid Petrov says there’s a clear escalation of tensions between the countries over two developments.

The American navy is tracking a North Korean vessel, KANGNAM-1, which it suspects of carrying weapons banned by a new UN resolution, and says it intends to search the vessel before it reaches its destination.

And the US is deploying more sophisticated defences to Hawaii, in case North Korea launches a long-range missile into the Pacific.

Dr Petrov is speaking with Caroline Davey. 

Download audio episode

Pyongyang turns the clock back

22 06 2009

index.2by Leonid Petrov, The Korea Times (22.06.2009) and (24.06.2009)

On the heels of a new U.N. Security Council resolution, which pursued tougher sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) for blasting a long-range missile and detonating the second atomic bomb, the communist state has moved aggressively against the last remaining zone of inter-Korean economic cooperation, the Gaeseong Industrial Complex.

On June 11, the North Korean Central News Agency announced the nullification of all contracts on rent, salaries and taxes adopted for the industrial park in Gaeseong. Pyongyang wanted the minimum monthly wage raised fourfold (to $300 from $75) and demanded an immediate lump-sum land lease payment of $500 million. It asked Seoul to empty the industrial estate unless the money was paid. This notification came after the two Koreas were wrangling over the release of a South Korean worker who was detained by the North Korean authorities for alleged anti-DPRK statements as well as inciting DPRK citizen to defect.

Even without salary increases, the 106 companies that invested in Gaeseong have been in economic trouble and have said they are considering forsaking the ROK government for support. Now they have started withholding wages to their DPRK staff in protest at the North’s demand for increased pay and tax rises. What lessons can be drawn from the recent rise and fall of inter-Korean economic cooperation? Pyongyang blames the South’s “extreme confrontation policy” for destroying the foundation of the industrial park, adding that the future of the complex is up to the South.

Restrictions imposed by the North on all jointly operated special economic zones will inevitably lead to substantial losses for the South Korean government, which had guaranteed investors up to 90 percent of their capital in case of forced closure or military conflict. North Korea will also lose a significant source of revenue, but since both the Gaeseong industrial park and Mt. Geumgang tourist resort are physically in North Korean territory, they will remain the property of the DPRK government, even if closed or abandoned by investors.

There are no figures indicating the extent to which the South Korean side might have profited from these cooperation projects in monetary terms. Hyundai Asan and the companies investing in the complex have always been subsidized by Seoul through direct and indirect channels, and the system of these subsidies was not particularly transparent. The South Korean government never wanted to tell taxpayers how much money it had spent on aiding the inter-Korean projects in Gaeseong and Mt. Geumgang; moreover it must have had serious reservations about the future of this investment.

During the decade of the Sunshine Policy (1998-2008) also known as the policy of peace and prosperity, the Gaeseong projects were frequently criticized by hawks in Washington and Tokyo, who saw them as yet another way to indirectly subsidize the North Korean regime. Indeed, Pyongyang was making good money out of economic cooperation in Gaeseong, amounting to $100 million a year. So why did it decide to close it so resolutely?

The North’s official explanation about Seoul’s “extreme confrontation policy” must be a pretext. Anti-DPRK propaganda can be disturbing and annoying, but it hardly constituted a direct threat to the regime. After all, Pyongyang had not been influenced by the much larger ROK propaganda efforts prior to 1998. The real reason could be the Gaeseong project itself. It created a stage where the large number of North and South Koreans worked together for the first time in 60 years since the division of the peninsula. This project provided a rare opportunity for unauthorized exchanges.

The North Koreans not only learned modern technical skills, they also had a chance to see that their southern compatriots do not look or behave like they are normally portrayed by the DPRK propaganda. Cautious political discussions cannot be ruled out, which in the long run could have a great impact on the internal situation of North Korea.

Anticipating this detrimental development, the North started cooperation with the South on the precondition of switching workers once a year. But later they realized this was impossible for technical reasons. Inevitably, rumors about life in South Korea started circulating among Gaeseong workers and their families. Illusions about the South became so uncontrollable among the people that the authorities could not bear this situation any longer…  

…by closing the borders and shutting the zones of inter-Korean cooperation the North Korean elite is buying extra time to stay in power at the expense of the common people’s suffering. The complexity of regional politics and the current state of the global economy also contributed to the early demise of inter-Korean economic experiment. Nevertheless, the last 10 years of the Sunshine policy did make a difference and changed the Korean people’s perceptions of each other, making a new attempt at cooperation possible. 

See the full text here… or here…

Sending another “Jimmy Carter” to N. Korea

20 06 2009


Selig Harrisonby Selig S. Harrison

(The Hankyoreh, 20 Jun. 2009

North Korea is often accused of dishonoring the commitments it makes in negotiations. However, in North Korean eyes, it is the U.S. that has failed to live up to its promises. This is the main reason why military hard-liners have been able to take control of North Korean foreign policy in the past six months and justify an increasingly provocative series of nuclear and missile tests in internal policy debates.

Kim Jong-il’s failing health and his reduced work schedule have made it easier for the hard-liners to consolidate control. Their strength is rooted in a cavalier U.S. disregard of its commitments that has vindicated their opposition to the 1994 Agreed Framework and the 2007 six-party denuclearization agreement.

For nearly eight years, from June, 1994, to December, 2002, the moderates in North Korea led by First Deputy Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju prevailed, and North Korea suspended its nuclear weapons program over the bitter protests of the hard-liners. In return, North Korea was promised two light water reactors as a token of U.S. readiness for normal relations. The reactors were never built, however, despite large South Korean and Japanese financial outlays. The Bush Administration not only abrogated the Agreed Framework, but dissolved the Korean Energy Development Organization (KEDO) and bludgeoned South Korea into approval in order to leave no doubt that the U.S. had repudiated its commitment.

Despite this, the moderates were able to get Kim Jong-il to support the six-party process with help from China and to disable the Yongbyon reactor. In return, the six parties pledge of 600,000 tons of oil. Although Japan, angered by the U.S. decision to remove North Korea from its List of Terrorist States, refused to provide its share, 200,000 tons, and the moderates were once again discredited….

… Progress towards denuclearization would require U.S. steps to assure North Korea that it will not be the victim of a nuclear attack. In Article Three, Section One of the Agreed Framework, the U.S. pledged that it “will provide formal assurances against the threat or use of nuclear weapons by the U.S.” simultaneous with complete denuclearization. Pyongyang is likely to insist on a reaffirmation of this pledge. Realistically, if the U.S. is unwilling to give up the option of using nuclear weapons against North Korea, it will be necessary to live with a nuclear-armed North Korea while maintaining adequate U.S. deterrent forces in the Pacific.

In my view, in the event of another war with North Korea resulting from efforts to enforce the U.N. sanctions, it is Japan that North Korea would attack, not South Korea. Some of the hard-line generals in the National Defense Commission, I learned on my January visit to Pyongyang, were outraged at Kim Jong-il’s apology to Prime Minister Koizumi in 2002 and have alarmed moderates in the regime with their swaggering confidence that North Korea could win a war with Japan.


See the full text here…

Кто разжигает новую войну на Корейском полуострове?

14 06 2009

Ещё пару недель назад, когда меня спрашивали о том, возможна ли новая война на Корейском полуострове, я уверенно отвечал: “Нет, не возможна. Ведь на таком густонаселённом и открытом со всех сторон для внешних вторжений участке земли нет смысла воевать — разрушения и жертвы, какими бы они не были чудовищными, не позволят одной или другой стороне воспользоваться плодами победы. Всё в конечном итоге вернётся к статусу кво и без нормального переговорного процесса конфликт разрешен не будет”. 

Но наблюдая за развитием событий, уверенности у меня убваляется с каждым днём. Дело явно идёт к открытому военному конфликту. Соседи на севере и юге, западе и востоке от Кореи с интересом наблюдают за тем, как нарастает напряжение в идеологическом споре, который вот уже шесть десятилетий остётся неразрешенным. Глупые политики и маньяки-милитаристы уже подсчитывают все плюсы и минусы от нового столкновения. Их мало волнует, что в огне войны гореть будут ни в чём неповинные граждане, женщины, дети, не имеющие никакого отношения к принимаемым решениям. В этом заключается преступный характер милитаризма любой страны. 

Многие полагают, что война уже давно началась (или вернее не заканчивалась) и мирные люди “уже горят”, страдая от санкций, голода и болезней. Причём каждая сторона винит в этом друг друга, а за одно и внешних врагов. Да, это действительно так, только корнем проблемы являются не коварные козни заокеанских злопыхателей, а бездарность собственных правителей. Неумение и нежелание руководителей Северной Коереи наладить нормальную жизнь у себя дома (когда люди не голодают, не мёрзнут и могут распоряжаться своей жизнью сами, а не по указке Вождя) усугубляется глупостью и жадностью тех правительств Южной Кореи, которые сводят на нет любые усилия своих граждан, направленные на примирение и сотрудничество с Севером…  

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Long Road Home: Testimony of a North Korean Camp Survivor

13 06 2009

Kim Yong_bookby Kim Yong with Kim Suk-Young

Kim Yong shares his harrowing account of life in a labor camp — a singularly despairing form of torture carried out by the secret state. Although it is known that gulags exist in North Korea, little information is available about their organization and conduct, for prisoners rarely escape both incarceration and the country alive. Long Road Home shares the remarkable story of one such survivor, a former military official who spent six years in a gulag and experienced firsthand the brutality of an unconscionable regime.

As a lieutenant colonel in the North Korean army, Kim Yong enjoyed unprecedented privilege in a society that closely monitored its citizens. He owned an imported car and drove it freely throughout the country. He also encountered corruption at all levels, whether among party officials or Japanese trade partners, and took note of the illicit benefits that were awarded to some and cruelly denied to others.

When accusations of treason stripped Kim Yong of his position, the loose distinction between those who prosper and those who suffer under Kim Jong-il became painfully clear. Kim Yong was thrown into a world of violence and terror, condemned to camp No. 14 in Hamkyeong province, North Korea’s most notorious labor camp. As he worked a constant shift 2,400 feet underground, daylight became Kim’s new luxury; as the months wore on, he became intimately acquainted with political prisoners, subhuman camp guards, and an apocalyptic famine that killed millions.

After years of meticulous planning, and with the help of old friends, Kim escaped and came to the United States via China, Mongolia, and South Korea. Presented here for the first time in its entirety, his story not only testifies to the atrocities being committed behind North Korea’s wall of silence, but it also illuminates the daily struggle to maintain dignity and integrity in the face of unbelievable odds. Like the work of Solzhenitsyn, this rare portrait tells a story of resilience as it reveals the dark forms of oppression, torture, and ideological terror at work in our world today.

About the Author

Kim Yong was a lieutenant colonel in the North Korean National Security Agency and a career military officer earning foreign currency until he was suddenly sent to a labor camp in 1993. After six years he escaped through China to South Korea and then, in 2003, came to the United States.

Kim Suk-Young is assistant professor of theater and East Asian studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. She is the author of the forthcoming book Illusive Utopia: Theater, Film, and Everyday Performance in North Korea.

По Ким звонит колокол

12 06 2009

Игорь Прокопьев, Русский Newsweek (08.06.2009)

Смена власти в КНДР приведет либо к катастрофе, либо к сохранению статус-кво. Мало кто верит в реформы

…Как и многие диктаторы, Ким Чен Ир сознательно отбраковывал всех, кто демонстрировал лидерские качества – боялся конкурентов. В итоге лидеры в дефиците. «Когда вождь умирает, остается много вторых номеров, которые не готовы стать номером один. Какое-то время они правят вместе, а потом начинается борьба за власть», – рисует возможный сценарий Асмолов. Так, напоминает он, было после смерти Сталина и Мао.

Но Северная Корея – не СССР и не Китай. В такой маленькой и изолированной стране сценарии сверхдержав могут и не сработать. Собственно, они уже однажды не сработали – когда Ким Ир Сен объявил преемником своего сына Ким Чен Ира. Основателю династии тогда перевалило за шестьдесят. В 2002 году, когда шестьдесят исполнилось Киму Второму, все ожидали, что он назначит Кима Третьего, выбрав на эту роль одного из своих сыновей – старшего Ким Чон Нама, среднего Ким Чон Чхоля или младшего Ким Чон Уна. Но тогда этого не произошло. Сейчас тоже непонятно, материализуется ли информация южнокорейской разведки в конкретных решениях Пхеньяна.

Эксперты говорят, что Ким Третий должен обладать хваткой эффективного кризис-менеджера. Но дети Кима не обладают ни аппаратным весом, ни управленческим опытом. Младшему и среднему сыну еще не исполнилось тридцати. Старшему – 38, но считается, что он попал в немилость после неудачной поездки в Японию по подложным документам.

Поэтому наиболее вероятным, по мнению экспертов, будет сценарий, при котором один из сыновей станет номинальным руководителем, а у руля встанет коллективный орган вроде советского политбюро. «Сегодня в КНДР есть три властные группы, которые координируются из одного центра. Семья Кима – несколько сот человек. Трудовая партия Кореи (ТПК) – старые соратники Ким Ир Сена и их родственники. И силовики – армия и госбезопасность», – говорит кореист Леонид Петров из Национального университета Австралии.

По его словам, Ким Чон Чхоль (средний сын) недавно был назначен одним из секретарей ЦК Трудовой партии Кореи, но активности не проявлял. Ким Чон Ун (младший) учился в Берне, был под опекой посла в Швейцарии, который выдавал его за собственного сына и везде с ним ездил. Сын не очень здоров, но на данный момент – фаворит отца. «Считается, что еще в начале января отец написал в ТПК письмо с предложением рассматривать Уна как наследника, – продолжает Петров. – Ожидалось, что в феврале-марте его кандидатуру представят на выборы в Верховное народное собрание. Однако в списках не оказалось ни сына, ни отца».

Петров говорит, что Ун – самая подходящая фигура. Если назначить генерала или другого родственника, начнется борьба за власть. Ун самый младший в семье, и согласно конфуцианским традициям – которые несмотря на десятилетия коммунизма сильны в Северной Корее, – он не может пойти наперекор старшим родственникам. Считается, что Ун был изолирован от чьих-либо влияний, так как сначала жил за границей, а потом – в золотой клетке – во дворце в Пхеньяне.

Очевидно, что у детей Кима, обучавшихся на Западе, совсем другой жизненный опыт, чем у отца и дедушки. Но, по словам Майкла Брина, все трое – весьма заурядные, нехаризматичные личности. Отец – другое дело, он способен на неординарные поступки. «После смерти Ким Ир Сена все думали, что его сын откроет страну для всего мира», – говорит Майкл Брин. С детьми таких ожиданий пока никто не связывает.

Ким Первый объявил Ким Чен Ира своим наследником за двадцать лет до своей кончины. Но хотя все знали, что он станет новым руководителем, ему потребовалось три года после прихода к власти, чтобы подчинить себе аппарат и заручиться поддержкой всех группировок. Только тогда он почувствовал себя в безопасности. А потенциальные соперники у него были. «У Ким Ир Сена было две семьи: Ким Чен Ир от первого брака и куча детей от второго, и они тоже хотели власти», – объясняет Леонид Петров…

См. весь текст здесь…

Another sign of North Korea’s regime insecurity

11 06 2009

Euna Lee_Lora Linby Leonid Petrov for ABC Unleashed (11 June 2009)

Two American journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who were arrested on March 17, 2009 on the Sino-North Korean border, appeared before the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s(DPRK) Central Court. They were sentenced to 12 years in a North Korean labour camp for illegally crossing borders and for espionage activity. What prompted such a harsh sentence, and what does Pyongyang want us to make of all this?

Over the past 12 months, the DPRK authorities have shown remarkable consistency. In its quest to return the country to complete isolation, Pyongyang is willing to take any action, including the most stringent.

Rigid policies are aimed not only at their own people but foreign citizens as well. Back in 2005, during the two months of Arirang Festival, the country was demonstrating friendliness by opening its borders to tourists from the United States. In 2007, North Korea went even further, allowing South Korean tourists to cross the demilitarised zone (DMZ) in their own cars.

However, last year saw a dramatic policy reverse. Areas of inter-Korean cooperation started closing down, “unreliable” tourists were mercilessly refused visas or deported, and those who chose unconventional ways to enter the country, were incarcerated or even killed.

On July 11, 2008 a North Korean soldier shot dead a South Korean housewife Pak Wan Ja, who allegedly tried to “infiltrate a security zone” adjacent to the jointly managed Geumgangsan tourist resort on the eastern coast of Korea.

South Korea immediately suspended the entry of tourists to the ill-fated zone of cooperation. North Korea refused to apologise and neglected Seoul’s invitation to conduct a joint investigation into the incident. Since then, the Geumgangsan resort remains deserted with most of the staff (South Korean and Chinese citizens) deported.

On March 30, 2009 a 40-year-old South Korean businessman named Yu (the full name is suppressed) was arrested by the North Korean authorities in Gaeseong Industrial Park, another area of inter-Korean cooperation located north of the DMZ.

He was accused of “anti-North Korean propaganda” and “inducing a DPRK citizen to defect to South Korea”. No details related to this matter have so far been released. North Korea stubbornly refuses to discuss the issue at any bi-lateral negotiations. In the meantime, Yu remains in custody somewhere in the DPRK without consular access or contact with relatives.

The third similar incident was the arrest of the two US journalists. Korean-American Euna Lee (Lee Seung-Eun) and Chinese-American Laura Ling  decided to make a documentary about North Korean refugees, people smugglers, and the repressive regime.

Their employer was California-based Current TV, founded by the former US Vice-President Al Gore. This project was probably inspired by Laura’s elder sister, a well-known TV reporter Lisa Ling. In 2006, together with Australian cameramen Brian Green, Lisa Ling accompanied an eye surgeon from Nepal, Dr. Sanduk Riut, who was practicing in North Korea.

Laura Ling was going to repeat the feat of the elder sister, together with her Korean-speaking companion, Euna Lee. They first visited South Korea, where they interviewed the specialists working in close contact with North Korean refugees (including Dr. Andrei Lankov of the Australian National University).

It was at that time that the crew’s activities started grabbing people’s attention. Someone in Seoul, with connections to North Korean government, might have communicated to Pyongyang information about the filming project.

Lee and Ling’s next stop was Northeastern China – a haven of illegal immigrants from North Korea. We know that the journalists travelled in the company of Californian cameraman and producer Mitchell Koss and a Chinese fixer. After visiting the city of Yanji, the group went to the Sino-Korean border area to film North Korean refugees and Chinese smugglers crossing the river.

What happened next remains a mystery….

See the full text here…

«Не влезай – убъёт!» – Северная Корея шлёт миру очередной сигнал

9 06 2009

Две американские журналистки, Ына Ли и Лора Лин, которые были арестованы северокорейскими пограничниками 17 марта 2009 г. на китайско-северокорейской границе, предстали перед Центральным Судом КНДР. За «незаконный переход грарницы и шпионаж» двух молодых женщин приговорили к 12 годам лишения свободы и исправительных работ. Процесс проходил в закрытом режиме, решение обжалованию не подлежит. Чем вызван такой приговор и что власти КНДР хотели нам всем этим сказать?

За последний год власти КНДР проявляют в своих действиях удивительную последовательность. В своём стремлении вернуть страну к полной самоизоляции, на подобии той, которая существовала с 1960-х по начало 2000-х, Пхеньян готов пойти на любые шаги, в том числе самые жесткие. Жесткие по отношению к своему народу в первую очередь, да и инострацам и тоже. Если в 2005 г. страна впревые продемонстрировала чудеса открытости и либерализма, открыв свои границы для туристов из США (пусть на короткие 2 месяца в период фестиваля Ариран) и разрешив в 2007 г. южнокорейским туристам пересекать Демилитаризованную Зону на собственных автомобилях, то начиная с прошлого года начался обратный процесс. Зоны межкорейского сотрудничества стали закрываться, неблагонадёжным туристам стали нещадно отказывать в визе, а тех кто любыми путями стремился попасть в страну, стали арестовывать или убивать.  

11 июля 2008 г. северокорейский солдат застрелил пятидесятитрёхлетнюю южнокорейскую домохозяйку Пак Ван Чжа, которая якобы попыталась в 4 часа утра пронкнуть в «охраняемую зону», прилегающую к совместно-эксплуатируемому курорту Кымгансан на восточном побережье Кореи. Южная Корея немедленно приостановила въезд своих туристов в злополучный анклав до выяснения обстоятельств. Северная Корея от совместного выяснения обстоятельств откзалась, равно как и от извинений за произошедший инцидент. С тех пор курорт Кымгансан простаивает без туристов, а большая часть обслуживающего персонала (граждане Южной Кореи и Китая) высланы на родину…

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Is Pyongyang reacting to or shaping events?

7 06 2009

Ron HuiskenBy Ron Huisken (East Asia Forum, 6 June 2009)

In a fit of calculated fury, North Korea has undone the fruits of several years of negotiations, declared the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War in 1953 to be null and void, and promised ‘merciless’ retaliation against anyone that violates its unilateral definition of sovereign rights.

Subtlety and imagination are among the many things in short supply in Pyongyang . Policy setbacks lead the regime to press the only button on the console: belligerence. Even so, the latest phase of ill-humour is strikingly fierce. Why? Has one or more of the other five participants in the Six-party talks done something so aggressive or insulting that Pyongyang was left without a choice?

If not, then perhaps Pyongyang wants to be where it currently is, and has inflated lesser policy setbacks to the point where it believes they can serve the constructed appearance that the DPRK has responded to extreme provocation.

Back in October 2008, the Bush administration removed the DPRK from its list of state sponsors of terror and from the provisions of the Trading with the Enemy Act. This was done in response to Pyongyang having begun the process of disabling its Yongbyon reactor and reprocessing facility, and providing its comprehensive declaration on all its nuclear facilities (although the declaration had some significant shortcomings).

A popular line of speculation is that since that time, Pyongyang has felt increasingly sidelined and resentful of Washington ’s preoccupation with changing administrations, the GFC, relations with Russia , China and Cuba and so on. The DPRK, it is suggested, is simply demanding to be re-instated as the first priority. I don’t find this persuasive.

We also have a new government in Seoul that has dropped the (Sunshine) policy of unconditional engagement in favour of linking aid and economic cooperation to developments in the political relationship and, specifically, progress on denuclearisation in the Six-party talks. Pyongyang has reacted adversely to this development, not least by putting in jeopardy the joint venture in Kaesong . Again, this is hardly an adequate explanation for scrapping the Six-party talks, conducting a second nuclear test and threatening war.

An explanation begins to emerge when one recalls that in February/March this year, Pyongyang announced that it intended to launch a satellite. Pyongyang would have been aware of how provocative this would appear to the US and Japan in particular, and how close it was to being a violation of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1718, passed after its first nuclear test in October 2006.

It is certain that Beijing used its connections to stress the same points. Not only did Pyongyang proceed with the launch, it threatened beforehand that even a hint of protest from the UNSC would elicit strong retaliation. This introduces the possibility that Pyongyang was seeking to create the circumstances in which it could present the second test and its other actions as a response to provocation, that is, the fault of the hostile attitudes amongst its negotiating partners. The UNSC statement condemning the satellite launch-cum-ballistic missile test was precisely what Pyongyang expected, and sought.

The final piece of the jigsaw puzzle is Kim Jung Il’s stroke and, presumably, diminished confidence in his longevity. Many have speculated about a leadership struggle and portrayed the latest developments as part of shoring up support among factions of the elite, especially, one imagines, the military. An equally plausible explanation is that Kim’s ill health has already produced a new configuration of power at the top of the DPRK government.

Further, it may be that the consensus among this new group that the 6-party process would deliver too little to the DPRK, and thus needed to be derailed. It is even possible that the new consensus is that it was a mistake to agree that the Bomb could be negotiated away, that there was no imaginable deal that would leave the regime in Pyongyang better off than retaining the Bomb.

This line of speculation is reinforced by the thought that Pyongyang has a very limited stock of plutonium, perhaps 30-50 kilograms, and that the two tests have probably consumed 10-15 kilograms. The military may have agreed to the second test on the condition that the reprocessing facility be reopened to replenish the stockpile.

The task now is to discover whether Pyongyang still wants to negotiate and, if so, whether those negotiations will be about denuclearisation or some lesser objectives linked to coexisting with a nuclear-armed DPRK….

See the full text here…

* Ron Huisken works at Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University