North Korea: Past, Present and Future

On October 7th, North Korean president Kim Jong Un appointed his younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, to a position in the regime’s Political Bureau, the top decision-making body that debates political and military issues. This act prompted reactions of fear from many observers of the news around the world, who suspect that Kim is filling the workers’ party with his own supporters in order to successfully develop nuclear weapons.

North Korea has had nuclear ambitions since the leadership of Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, who established the country in 1948. North Korea has conducted over 100 missile tests and many other nuclear tests since then, threatening nearby countries including China, South Korea, Japan, and US territories in the Pacific. Many countries, including America, have been trying to prevent the operation of North Korea’s nuclear program by negotiating treaties or by setting up international agreements; however, North Korea has been known to withdraw from talks and resolutions addressing its nuclear programs.

According to President Trump, “By threatening the world, these weapons and tests further isolate North Korea, weaken its economy, and deprive its people.” That much is true: North Korea has turned itself into a bomb that is too threatening for any country to go near, though admittedly the persisting vulnerability of its economic and political structure guarantees that it is never truly stable. By developing nuclear weapons, Kim would be capable of protecting his relatively weak regime from his stronger enemies and progressing towards his goal of unifying the Korean Peninsula under his leadership. Jon Wolfsthal, a nuclear nonproliferation expert who served on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council, said, “If you were the head of a small, isolated, poor country surrounded by potentially hostile military powers, you’d be looking for some way to ensure your own destiny, too.”

Nowadays, North Korea is not the only country possessing strong nuclear weapons, but the threat it poses is particularly worrying, considering that Kim the diplomatically isolated country has many potential targets. Additionally, there is fear that if the unstable government were to collapse, the nuclear bombs would be stolen and sold to terrorist organizations and other dangerous groups.

The US has four strategic options for dealing with North Korea. The first is to destroy its arsenals and military, overthrow its leaders, and possibly end the Kim dynasty permanently. This solution has clear risks: What if this were to cause nuclear war? When dealing with a nation possessing destructive nuclear weapons, the smallest provocations could prove catastrophic. And, even if the US succeeded in destroying North Korea, the chaos left behind would become a burden for the US. The second option is to attack its arsenal without provoking a full-on war. The danger here lies in the fact that continual counter-attacks could potentially trigger a war anyway. This leads us to the third option: somehow removing Kim himself from leadership. This option poses serious challenges because of how well-guarded he is, and it also begs the question: who could guarantee the new leader wouldn’t be worse? Removing Kim as a ruler, in truth, does not ensure a better succeeding one. Lastly, what we as a nation could do is to accept the current situation, and base our subsequent actions on what unfolds in the future. It’s terrifyingly easy to believe that North Korea will continue its nuclear program, even at the expense of its economy and people. It would be an exceedingly difficult, and some would say unfeasible, task to convince the North Korean leaders to give up the project on which they’d been working for several decades. Every available option is problematic and distressing, but acceptance seems to be the least of the potential evils. In short, North Korea seems to be a problem with no solution … except time.