“The TV camera focuses on Kim Jong-un. “Fellow countrymen, I am determined to make sure that you have not endured your many sacrifices in vain,” he says. “We have forced the world to notice us and respect us, and now we need to translate that achievement into food, clothing and shelter for our long-suffering population.
“Today, I am ordering military storehouses opened. We will distribute a million tons of war-reserve rice to our citizens, who need to eat well because we have a huge task ahead transforming what almost every countryman realizes is a sick and broken economy..
“We cannot afford to waste our energy and resources on antagonizing other countries. Thus we will shrink the military. We welcome assistance from international institutions and from other countries, including especially our East Asian neighbors, whose highly successful economic models we will adapt to our needs.
“We are prepared to negotiate with our Southern brothers an agreement for each side to drop its claims over the territory of the other. We must postpone discussion of Korean reunification until we can close much of the enormous economic gap, which currently makes it virtually impossible for Northerners and Southerners to contemplate living together as equals under a single government.
“In exchange for appropriate assurances of non-intervention and the withdrawal of sanctions, we are prepared to halt development of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and shift our resources to programs that will peacefully advance our economy.”
Recommended: 5 Places World War III Could Start in 2018
Recommended: How North Korea Could Start a War
Recommended: This Is What Happens if America Nuked North Korea
Unbelievable, right? The preceding is from my imagination, but illustrates the magnitude of change that might be involved in a truly strategic shift by North Korea’s ruler.
That’s relevant, now that even such respected commentators as former US State Department senior officials Robert Carlin and Joel Wit claim we’ve already seen change this week that’s “serious,” and “more than just a tactic.”
In what headline writers excitedly described as an “olive branch,” Kim’s representatives met on Tuesday with their Seoul counterparts to discuss issues, starting with an agreement that the North would participate in the Winter Olympic Games next month in Pyeongchang, South Korea. More talks are expected.
Don’t be distracted. Having covered and studied North Korea for 40 years, I feel comfortable saying that its long-term strategy since the Korean War ended in stalemate in 1953 has been and remains to persuade the United States to remove its troops from South Korea and withdraw its security guarantee.
Then, as defectors who have worked in sensitive military and political positions have repeatedly testified, when an appropriate opportunity presents itself, the North intends to conquer the South – regardless of the Southern population’s preferences.
What we are seeing – the North’s recent demonstration of nuclear might followed by a charm offensive aimed at South Koreans – is simply a tactical move within the same old strategy. Both Americans and South Koreans need to understand this, and bear it in mind even as they seek to use talks to calm tensions and avert outright warfare.
Concessions that the North will demand include reductions in mutual US-South Korean defense measures, especially annual training exercises that keep the two countries’ militaries working as a team.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has long been predisposed to engagement with the North, but even US President Donald Trump, who had threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea, has indicated he is willing to go along to some extent.
Trump agreed to Moon’s proposal to postpone joint exercises during the Winter Games. He tweeted last Thursday that “talks are a good thing,” boasting that his own firm approach had made them possible.
North Korea’s nuclear weapons are intended partly to deter a “decapitation” effort by the US and/or South Korea to take Kim down. But Pyongyang’s weapons of mass destruction also fit its overall strategy. The idea is to use the threat of WMD beyond the Korean Peninsula to hasten the exit of the Americans who now protect the South. “Get out and we won’t bomb Los Angeles” – that’s the message North Korea has been sending.
South Korean opposition leader Hong Joon-pyo was quoted by Yonhap News as saying on December 27 that North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missiles “are designed to block US participation in a war when the North makes an attempt at unification by force.”
Defectors have previously testified that the North Korean military contemplated use of WMD to take South Korea. One, Lee Chong-guk , a former sergeant assigned to the Bureau of Nuclear and Chemical Defense, said his superiors had boasted of having enough chemical weapons to wipe out the South Korean population. It would be impossible to make many Southerners adopt the North’s ideology, he said senior officers told him – so most would have to die.