Weapons of mass destruction: North Korea’s ultimate fear tactic

Parsa Keshavarz Alamdari, Columnist

Bordering China, South Korea and Russia, North Korea has been described as desolate, isolated and rogue. Since the Singapore and Hanoi summits between North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un and former U.S. President Donald Trump, North Korea hasn’t made many headlines. However, North Korea is carrying on with its deployment of weapons of mass destruction which should not be ignored.

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) are weapons developed to cause harm to a large number of people. This term includes a large variety of weapons, including nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, among others. The main concern with North Korea currently is its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles programs.

North Korea has been working on its nuclear program for decades. The program accelerated once it pulled out of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 2003. Reportedly, North Korea has between 20 and 60 nuclear warheads.

Simultaneously, North Korea has been developing its ballistic missiles programs. It has been testing its missiles’ capabilities routinely, to the worry of Japan and South Korea, the US’ key allies in East Asia. The most recent test was conducted in March 2022. It is now believed that North Korean missiles can reach as far as the mainland US.

North Korea’s threat must be taken seriously. With its capability of delivering nuclear warheads to Europe and the US, North Korea could be a serious threat to many countries. The fact that many negotiations with this rogue state have failed over the decades certainly does not help with this fact.

However, North Korea is a struggling nation. A UN report in 2021 said that 42 percent of North Koreans are malnourished. In 2020, Kim offered a rare apology to his people. He said that he “failed to always live up to [his people’s trust] satisfactorily,” while shedding tears.

It is safe to assume that Kim’s greatest fear is a regime change in his country. His family has held a strong grip on the country ever since the end of the second world war. While North Korean people live on rations as low as 300 grams (10.6 oz) per day, Kim spends millions of dollars on tobacco, wine and cheese.

I assume that Kim wouldn’t dare start a war with any of his neighbors, let alone the U.S. He is well aware of the military capabilities of the U.S. and its allies.

His country is also under comprehensive sanctions from the UN, and its only way to make some money is through counterfeiting, smuggling, illegal arms trade and insurance fraud, run by the infamous room 39.

This shows that the leaders of the “hermit kingdom” are willing to go to any lengths to finance their programs for weapons of mass destruction, as well as their own lavish lives. Despite the wide knowledge of these crimes, the fact that North Korea will not accept any responsibility is revealing. Their entire system is built on lies.

Therefore, sanctions will not and have not stopped North Korea from pursuing weapons of mass destruction. That’s because they need them for a greater cause.

However, there is an interesting pattern in North Korea’s negotiations. After a significant escalation of tensions, they walk back to the negotiation table, progress a little bit, maybe receive some humanitarian aid and then leave to escalate tensions again sometime later.

While North Korea wants to keep its weapons for deterrence, they want to keep a balance with international powers—a healthy amount of hostility is enough. Kim knows all too well that a friendly relationship with the international community and improved quality of life in North Korea could lead to his fall, similar to what happened with Perestroika and Glasnost Soviet Union, which some claim were the last nails of the Soviet Union’s coffin.

Dictators are afraid of reform and freedom. They know that once they allow their people to have any piece of information that contradicts what the state has told them, the whole system will crash like a house of cards. For Kim, therefore, his weapons are not only to deter their enemies but to deter their own people in the name of those enemies.

North Korea poses a significant threat to international security, which should be taken very seriously. Almost everyone agrees on that. However, its leadership seems to prefer the current situation. Kim is living a life of luxury and is not willing to give it up easily. For him, it seems that keeping the hostilities at a level to deter any attacks seems just fine, and it has worked so far.