A recent report, basing itself off satellite imagery, confirms North Korea’s stated intentions in planning to launch its own weather satellite this coming month. President Obama urged Pyongyang to call off the launch, with little effect, and responded with suspending food aid to the impoverished country.
Washington and Seoul allege that the launch is in reality a ballistic missile test – and both capitals are worried about the rate of advancement of the North Korean missile program. The issue is further complicated by the country’s nuclear capabilities, because adopting more sophisticated delivery capabilities means that mainland USA may be within striking distance of the North Korean arsenal in the short-term.
Calling for cooperation with North Korea would be political suicide – American politicians are naturally averse to autarkic states with questionable ideologies about self-reliance when the people inside can barely feed themselves, let alone their choices to marshal nuclear weapons and rocket forces over a coherent agricultural program.
North Korea will launch the satellite, we will condemn it, and grind our teeth as the defiant, hungry state launches an official space program and solicits Iran’s cooperation in it. The question becomes what we can do about moving forward, instead of backward, into the established pattern of Pyongyang offering some leeway, then retreating like a rabbit, only to rinse and repeat year after year.
It is not likely that North Korea will give up its technology. Most likely, it will profit from exporting it, which is probably the biggest worry of the top two weapons exporters in the world – America and Russia. The nuclear dimension remains an unknown variable. If Pyongyang decides to develop reactors rather than bombs, that may also turn into an export cash cow and then buy all the army food rations, MiG-15s, and Kim Jong-il/un statues it wants.
For U.S. policy, the perspective must shift towards the reunification of the peninsula. It is not natural for the same nation to be divided in two states for ideological reasons over a line somebody drew on a map in the State Department 60 years ago. To this end, extending a credit of trust to His Majesty, Comrade, All-Powerful/Seeing/Knowing, Kim Jong-un, might alleviate a lot of the tensions and problems surrounding North Korea and begin a trend where it is gradually normalized into the established global legal, economic, and cooperation control regimes. Subjecting the country’s nuclear program to the IAEA on a permanent and routine basis without the threat of inspectors arbitrarily being kicked out in the middle of handling a radioactive fuel rod is indeed a more preferable state of affairs.
What is more, it would allow the entry of foreign capital into the impoverished country. Integration in the global economy will compel the leadership to open up the country to gradual development to the point where the equating of living standards with South Korea will make the reunification significantly less painful for both parties – but that window goes from 50 to 100 years.
The question we have to ask is whether Kim Jong-un will be the typical North Korean half-god, half-monarch, half-human, and full North Korean leader wasting his time consolidating control over the army and asking his bedroom mirror, his statue, portrait, movie biography director, and purse mirror “Who’s the Greatest of them All?” or on the other hand, will he be truly the leader for the history books and lead North Korea in a direction where it finally takes care of its people and thinks about its responsibility as an international actor.