Why, exactly, was the declaration by North Korea that it possessed nuclear weapons--and would hold on to its nuclear arsenal "under any circumstances"--greeted with such shock and astonishment around the world?
Pyongyang's claim in February to have joined the world's nuclear weapons club was not exactly a sudden, bizarre and inexplicable whim. Quite the contrary. That announcement represented the entirely logical culmination of decades of steady, deliberate effort and careful, methodical progress on a multifaceted program of weapons of mass destruction (WMD)--including work not only on nuclear weapons, but also chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles. To misunderstand this basic truth is to be blind and deaf to the fundamentals of North Korean strategy--an ignorance America and its allies can scarcely afford in the dangerous days that are likely to lie ahead.
When Western commentators have speculated about the motives underlying the North Korean quest for nuclear weapons and other WMD instruments, they have often dwelled upon the theme of "blackmail": that is, the dividends Pyongyang reaps from international military extortion. But this is a highly incomplete explanation of Pyongyang's abiding interests in WMD programs. North Korea's WMD project is aimed at rather more than simply cadging deliveries of food or fuel when the wolf is at the door. Indeed, the purposes of its WMD programs are so closely wedded to purposes of state that they can be described as integrally fused into the very logic of the North Korean system. That strategy, and the logic undergirding it, may be intuitively unfamiliar to those of us with modern, "globalization era" sensibilities. But until we appreciate the thinking that animates North Korea's WMD quest, we will face the prospect of ever more unpleasant and expensive surprises from Pyongyang.
What Is North Korea For?