Within eyesight of South Korean border troops in the Demilitarized Zone is a village established by the North Korean government shortly after the end of the Korean War.
Called Kijong-dong, or “Peace Village,” it’s uninhabited, with lights that operate on automatic timers to present an illusion of human activity.
The sham village is an apt metaphor for the relationship with Pyongyang over the past two decades that has brought the two nations, in the words of President Trump, on the verge of a “major, major conflict.”
Pyongyang’s chief tactic could be described as “nuclear blackmail,” essentially issuing periodic threats to launch a nuclear missile at U.S. allies in Asia, or the U.S. itself, followed by negotiations, an easing of sanctions and aid.
Relations with Pyongyang over the past two decades shows “the appeasement of Pyongyang is a fool’s errand,” says analyst Joshua Stanton.
Last November, he summarized North Korea’s recent history of broken agreements.
“North Korea has violated or summarily withdrawn from an armistice, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, two IAEA safeguards agreements, an inter-Korean denuclearization agreement, two agreed frameworks, a joint denuclearization statement, the Leap Day agreement, and six U.N. Security Council resolutions,” Stanton said.
And yet, he wrote, “the most stubborn ‘engagers’ of Pyongyang look on this clear historical record and declare that it calls for yet another piece of paper.”
The U.N. Security Council met Friday to discuss measures to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs after the communist regime made several military shows of strength in recent weeks, including a missile test. After the meeting, Pyongyang conducted another missile test.
The United States sent warships to the region and began installing a controversial anti-missile system in South Korea earlier this week.
Since 1948, North Korea has been under the one-man rule of a dynasty that began with Kim Il Sung, “the great leader,” who developed a cult of personality centered on the state philosophy of Juche.
Usually translated as “self-reliance,” Juche is described by the government as Kim Il Sung’s “original, brilliant and revolutionary contribution to national and international thought.” It holds that an individual is “the master of his destiny,” and the North Korean masses are to act as the “masters of the revolution and construction” to achieve true socialism.
Raised in a Presbyterian family during Japanese colonial rule, North Korea’s founder, who was installed by the Soviet Union, is cast in official propaganda as a messianic figure. According to the mythology, he was born on Korea’s highest peak, Mount Paektu, beneath twin rainbows in a log cabin during the armed struggle against the Japanese occupiers. Propaganda posters often employ the imagery of pristine, mountain-top snow to communicate the doctrine of the Korean people as a pure, unblemished race.
Kim Il Sung was succeeded by his son, “the dear leader,” Kim Jong Il, who died in 2011, after which his son Kim Jong Un, the current leader, took over.
Four years after Kim Il Sung’s death in 1994, the presidency was eliminated from the constitution, and he was named as “Eternal President of the Republic.”
Under the dictatorial rule of the Kim dynasty — in which every aspect of life is regulated, from speech to food, employment and travel — millions of North Koreans have have died of starvation or in labor camps.
‘Extreme moves of the U.S.’
The North Korean government’s view of the United States can be seen in a memorandum issued by its foreign ministry last fall titled “The DPRK’s Strengthening of its Nuclear Forces Is a Righteous Choice to Defend Itself from the Extreme Moves of the U.S. to Stifle It.”
It’s not nuclear tests that are to blame for the tensions, the communist government contends, it’s “the U.S. hostile policy.”
The nine-page memo reads in part:
All the facts above clearly substantiate the truth that the root cause of escalated tension on the Korean peninsula lies with the U.S. hostile policy and nuclear threats against the DPRK, not the latter’s nuclear and missile tests.
The DPRK has chosen the road of possessing nuclear weapons as a self-defensive measure to safeguard its state and system from the constant nuclear threat of the U.S. We are strengthening our nuclear forces both in quality and quantity, holding fast to the line of simultaneously developing the national economy and nuclear forces as our strategic line.
The U.S. should face up to the new strategic position of the DPRK and take actual measures to show that they are willing to scrap its anachronistic hostile policy and nuclear threat against the DPRK.
This, and only this will be the first base of resolving all the issues.
North Korea’s definition of “hostile policy” includes “U.N. and U.S. sanctions, South Korea’s defensive and deterrent military exercises, missile defense, criticism of Kim Jong Un’s crimes against humanity, and quite possibly the First Amendment right of private citizens to ridicule the dictator.”
Stanton, who served as an Army judge advocate in South Korea from 1998 to 2002 and as a fellow at the House Foreign Affairs Committee, advising on North Korea-related legislation, said what North Korea really wants is a peace treaty negotiation.
“The longer and more inconclusive, the better,” he added.
“Its diplomatic strategy is to draw the U.S. and South Korea into an extended ‘peace process’ in which it would make a series of up-front demands (the lifting of sanctions) in exchange for (at most) a partial freeze of its nuclear programs, which would effectively recognize it as a de facto nuclear weapons state,” he said.
Stanton testified in 2006 before the House International Relations Committee, as it was then known, regarding the state of the U.S.-South Korean alliance.
He said that if Pyongyang had its way, it would also demand the end to U.S.-South Korean military exercises, the curtailment of missile defense, and other actions that would ensure its nuclear and military hegemony over South Korea.
“Then, Pyongyang would demand an end to diplomatic and humanitarian criticism of its regime, censorship of anti-regime leaflets, demonstrations, and satirical films — in short, a limited recognition of its political supremacy over Seoul that would end in a one-country-two-systems Korea under North Korean domination, with Pyongyang gradually escalating its financial and political demands.”
In 2012, shortly after Kim Jong Un took power, Pyongyang defied U.N. resolutions and American threats by launching a missile that could deliver a nuclear payload to the West Coast.
Satellite intelligence showed that the North was also preparing for more nuclear tests, indicating they have no intention of stopping their development of more nuclear weapons.
The provocation came a few weeks after Obama struck a deal offering 240,000 metric tons of food in exchange for promises to freeze the weapons program, noted Bruce Thornton, a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and a professor of classics and humanities at the California State University, at the time.
“This pattern of offering carrots to North Korea, only to get smacked with sticks in return, has been going on for decades now, under both Republican and Democratic administrations,” he said in 2012.
“That is how the North got the bomb in the first place, engaging in ‘negotiations’ and dangling promises of cooperation in exchange for aid and time.”
Thornton said both North Korea and Iran “have been taught by the West that our threats, exception-riddled sanctions, and U.N bluster are all pretexts for an unwillingness to use force, which both regimes interpret as weakness.”
Writing in the Atlantic in 2005, Scott Stossel noted at the time that North Korea was believed to have as many as 10 nuclear missiles and was thought to be the first developing nation to be capable of striking the continental United States with a long-range ballistic missile.
It also was believed to have large stockpiles of chemical weapons — including mustard gas, sarin, VX nerve agent — and biological weapons, including anthrax, botulism, cholera, hemorrhagic fever, plague, smallpox, typhoid, yellow fever.
Pentagon experts, he said, have estimated that the first 90 days of such a conflict might produce 300,000 to 500,000 South Korean and American military casualties, along with hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths.
Another serious threat, he said, is that terrorists will detonate a nuclear bomb in an American city.
Stanton said North Korea should be on the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
“As long as North Korea suffers no adverse consequences for its terrorism, it will continue to murder human rights activists and dissidents in exile who risk their lives to bring us the truth about their homeland,” he wrote. ” In a land of scarcity, truth may be North Korea’s scarcest commodity of all. Sadly, the truth about North Korea is becoming increasingly scarce in Foggy Bottom, too,” he said, referring to the State Department.
‘A sea of fire’
The current crisis can be traced back to 1993 when North Korea declared that proposed International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of two of its nuclear sites would be violations of its sovereignty.
Tensions rose as Pyongyang threatened to begin converting 8,000 spent fuel rods into weaponizable nuclear material, warning it could turn Seoul into “a sea of fire.”
In June 1994, President Bill Clinton was preparing to evacuate American civilians from South Korea when word came that Jimmy Carter — who was in Pyongyang as an independent citizen — had reached a preliminary deal with the North Koreans.
In October 1994, the U.S. and allies South Korea and Japan signed an “Agreed Framework” with Pyongyang, providing North Korea with light-water nuclear reactors and with 500,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil annually in exchange for freezing nuclear-weapons development.
Republicans in Congress slammed the agreement as “appeasement.”
It turned out that their skepticism was warranted.
In 2002, U.S. intelligence found that North Korea was secretly enriching uranium. Shortly thereafter, it restarted its plutonium program, reprocessing the 8,000 spent fuel rods it had kept in storage since the signing of the Agreed Framework.
A year later, Pyongyang said it had finished the processing, meaning, if the claim was true, it had enough fissile material for up to six new nuclear weapons.
The Bush administration responded by refusing to negotiate directly with the North Koreans, leading to six-party talks involving China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. But North Korea pulled out after the third round, demanding direct relations with the U.S.
In 2008, President Bush moved to save a failing disarmament agreement by removing North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and lifting severe financial sanctions.
But Kim Jong Il reneged on the agreement.
In 2009, North Korean arms shipments that included 122- and 240-millimeter rockets and man-portable surface-to-air missiles were intercepted in Bangkok and Dubai on their way to Iran. The suspected recipients included Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, which had killed American soldiers in Iraq.
In 2010, North Korea sank a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors, and shelled a South Korean fishing village, killing two Marines and two civilians. It also carried out cyber attacks and made threats against South Korean newspapers and television stations.
Beginning in 2011, North Korea launched an assassination campaign against its critics abroad, using syringes disguised as pens and loaded with lethal neostigmine bromide.
The murder just two months ago of Kim Jong Un’s half brother Kim Jong Nam in Malaysia by two woman who smeared a banned VX nerve agent on his face at an airport bears the marks of a such a plot. The assassination is believed to have been ordered by the dictator himself.