As North Korea continues to flex its military muscles and threaten world leaders, experts are left wondering what exactly the rogue state is hoping to prove.
Over the past month, the country has threatened to turn South Korea’s capital into a “lake of fire”, launched a ballistic missile in Japanese waters and laid out a plan to attack the U.S. territory of Guam.
And despite threats from U.S. President Donald Trump, who promised “fire and fury” against the Asian nation, Kim Jong-un has significantly upped the ante.
But what exactly is North Korea trying to accomplish anyway?
Recognition and survival
North Korea wants security recognition as an international player, according to Elliot Tepper, a professor of international relations at Carleton University.
Tina Park, vice-president of the NATO Association of Canada, agrees.
“Regional survival is a huge driver behind the threats,” she said. “It’s a brutal dictatorship and has done everything to stay in power despite economic difficulties.”
The country wants assurance it won’t be attacked by the U.S., Japan and South Korea. South Korea and the U.S. have a strong alliance and there are many military troops on the Korean peninsula.
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Not only is North Korea threatened by the U.S.’s military, the country’s ideological base is being challenged, Park said. There is a crack in the ideological belief system in the country, which causes a serious threat to the dictatorship.
Kim Jung-un wants his people to believe that the U.S. continues to threaten the country’s existence and he is protecting them.
North Korea is in desperate need of financial support. Its economy is crumbling and its people are starving, Park said. Yet despite the lack of funds, North Korea maintains an army of more than one million people, has fighters jets and nuclear weapons. These take up a lot of investment and resources.
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Because the country continues to make a persistent effort to improve its military credibility, it hopes “nuclear brinkmanship” will help it get financial and development support, Tepper said. The country wants more money and in the past, it has resolved negotiations leading to economic rewards from South Korea and the West.
North Korea began producing fissile material for bombs in the 1990s and conducted its first nuclear test explosion in 2006. Four subsequent nuclear tests, the latest a year ago, have accelerated progress on miniaturizing a device – something North Korea already claimed it could do. Over that span, multiple U.S. presidents have tried and failed to coax or pressure Pyongyang into abandoning its nuclear ambitions.
North Korea feels the ultimate guarantee to “regime preservation” is a nuclear deterrent, Tepper said. This has been the nation’s strategy for years, if not decades.
Will it succeed?
Tepper and Park both agree the tensions will probably not turn into a full-blown nuclear war. The cost of war is too high and will be catastrophic for any party to engage in. But North Korea is a desperate dictatorship trying to survive, and its leader has very little political and military experience.
“Diplomacy is still the preferred option of all parties, but any mistake could tip this into a nuclear wartime situation,” he said.
With files from the Associated Press
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