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North Koreans say that as long as there are US troops in South Korea, Japan and Guam, Washington will not initiate hostilities against Pyongyang.

 

North Korea will not agree to abandon its nuclear weapons program, as the family-controlled regime in office in Pyongyang regards possession of nuclear weapons and viable delivery vehicles as essential to its continuance in power. This was the conclusion of two individuals, who are accepted by analysts of the peninsula as being in touch with what they term as “Leadership Thinking” in the isolated but defiant state known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The term “Leadership” refers to Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un and those whom he entrusts with responsibility at any particular moment in time. The Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) meets almost no non-citizens (and very few even of the latter), and has thus far kept away from the international media. However, some of his countrypersons travel extensively across the region, and a few among them know first-hand Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un’s mind on the issue of North Korea’s accelerated effort to become a nuclear weapons power, with the capacity to inflict damage initially on the Pacific coast of the United States, including on Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and subsequently on the eastern coast, including the cities of Washington DC, Boston and New York.

 

Words Vs. Actions

 

According to the individuals contacted, Kim Jong Un has made a comprehensive study of US “words and actions” and has reached the conclusion that “the two are often in contradiction, especially where declared rivals of the US are concerned”. They say that as a matter of tactics, high-level (US) officials give assurances of safety and good intentions, including in public, but during that same time, secretly begin processes designed to weaken and eliminate those who are being lulled into a false sense of security through assurances that are “nothing but bluff”. Even those who have allowed themselves to be serially used by US agencies, have, later on, been severely dealt with, an interesting example cited being that of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, “who spent nearly 30 years in a US jail, despite doing all that the CIA demanded on him while in power”. According to them, information collected by a “data collection unit” in a location in South America showed that Noriega was incarcerated to punish him for revealing details of the way in which the CIA had used druglords to conduct “dirty tricks” within the region. They say that the Panamanian strongman was in touch with the “most important geopolitical rival” of the US and had fed them details of the CIA’s actions through a Cuban intermediary, but that the top leadership of this rival country secretly handed over this same information and its source back to US authorities in 1988, “without the knowledge of the (rival country’s) military”. They add that “the drug offences (on which Noriega was charged) were carried out with the connivance of the CIA”, which is presumably why proof of such activities, as would satisfy a US court, was not difficult to find. They also mentioned a list of more than four-hundred names compiled by DPRK analysts, and which “contains the names of those who were ‘neutralised, often with extreme prejudice’, once they gave US authorities all that was demanded”, a list that they confirm includes such obvious names as Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. No copy of this “list of the betrayed” was shown to this correspondent, and the only proof offered was the word of the sources talked to. The two have, however, been authenticated as genuine sources of factual information by analysts familiar with the region and its flashpoints.

 

The “Leadership Thinking” in Pyongyang is emphatic that the US and its military allies “only wage war against a regime after that entity has surrendered its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and has also ensured access to US intelligence to map out every vulnerability in its defences”. Iraq, Libya and Syria were quoted as examples, it being added that President Bashar Assad made US intervention inevitable once he agreed to give up his chemical weapons stockpile. The gesture was under pressure from Moscow, which believed that the gesture would ensure either the ending of diplomatic moves by the US and the EU against the Russian Federation or a significant dilution in them. “Instead, the reverse took place and a year later, harsher sanctions got imposed”. The lesson drawn by Pyongyang is that “good” behaviour (i.e. obedience) is fatal, while only “bad” (i.e. flouting) can ensure regime survival. They say that so long as there are US troops in South Korea (which they call “Occupied Korea”), Japan and Guam, the US will not initiate hostilities against North Korea. However, in their view, “when confronted with a threat to their own cities, the US (administration) will not hesitate to expose Seoul and Tokyo” to attack from the DPRK and hence the DPRK will have immunity to attack once it gains the capability to target the continental US with nuclear weapons.

 

‘It’s Bluff’

 

They add that Pyongyang seeks nuclear weapons and delivery capability only for its own protection and, hence, will not act against the US, unless it becomes clear that a war by the latter is imminent, which they say will not happen, “as all this war talk is bluff”, designed to make the DPRK expose itself to an attack by surrendering its nuclear weapons. While acknowledging the superiority in conventional weaponry of the Republic of Korea forces, they claim that the “revolutionary spirit of the Free Korean soldiers (i.e., those enrolled in the DPRK armed forces) will prevail over the RoK units, “the way they did against superior US combat units during the 1950s Korean war”. No mention was made by those close to the DPRK’s “Leadership Thinking” of the assistance in materiel delivered by the USSR or the crucial involvement of China’s People’s Liberation Army during those operations.

 

The sources claim that Kim Jong Un, while having “learnt much” from the example of the life of the founder of the DPRK, Kim Il Sung, the present Supreme Leader of the DPRK sees his father Kim Jong Il as having had on occasion “an excess of trust” in the promises of those governments he was dealing with, and, therefore, initiating steps to downsize the DPRK’s WMD stockpile twice during his 1994-2011 tenure. They say that while Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un is open to the idea of unifying with South Korea, he is of the view that the unified entity must be a nuclear weapons state, “to avoid blackmail by Japan and the US”. Equally, the Leadership Thinking is that any merger must include a coming together of the two militaries and state institutions, as well as a “lifetime leadership role” for Kim Jong Un, rather than an Iraq or Libya situation, where an entire governance structure was eliminated and chaos resulted. They regard Kim as “the protector of the spirit of the immortal Korean people”. The individuals spoken to claim that in any future election, Kim Jong Un would emerge as the most popular leader of a unified people, although this claim may never be tested. They add that in the view of the leadership, the US would “not permit unification, unless it was certain that it could control the new entity the way it is still dominating Germany and occupying the country with troops”. Hence, “unification talks with Occupied Korea (sic) are only possible once (the DPRK’s) nuclear weapons are tested and brought to readiness, and delivery systems capable of entering the continental US are operational”. Only then would the US “be unable to block unification talks based on Korean, and not Japanese or US, principles”.

 

According to them, such a phase (of the DPRK evolving as an intercontinental nuclear weapons power) would “assure peace (in the peninsula),” as the US or Japan would then never have the “spirit” to wage war. But what of President Trump’s warning that the US would not accept North Korea crossing such a threshold of nuclear capability? According to Pyongyang’s “Leadership Thinking”, such talk by Trump is bluff and bluster, “as history shows the US acts only when it is first attacked, or when the enemy is weak”, neither of which is likely, according to others talked to in locations within two cities close to or bordering the Pacific Ocean.

 

Given that Pyongyang seems unwilling to reverse course, and that within President Trump’s first term, the DPRK will, on the present reckoning, have the capacity to reach the western shores of continental US, it will not be long before the world knows whether Pyongyang is correct in regarding Washington’s warnings of war as being “mere bluff that will not scare the most noble son of Korea”, i.e., Kim Jong Un, or divert him from his determination to make the DPRK a formidable nuclear weapons power.

 

The China Factor

 

Another, and hugely important, variable is China. Were Beijing to cut off essential supplies to North Korea, the economy of that country would be brought to its knees in months. The “Leadership Thinking” is that the (North) Korean people would accept death and starvation, but not surrender. Clearly, such a move by China, were Beijing to enforce such a blockade, could lead to unforeseen actions and consequences beyond the civilian.

 

In the battle of wills between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump, both are betting that the other will blink first.

 

[This opinion piece was originally published in the Sunday Guardian and is reproduced with permission]

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.