Could it be that ideology is not driving North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, but rather an attempt to become a full-fledged “member of the international community”?
Conventional wisdom holds that the North’s weapons are intended to address the country’s two greatest problems — military inferiority and economic weakness — by deterring the United States and extracting concessions.
But in practice, the weapons make both problems worse by increasing the risk of war and ensuring continued sanctions.
So what is driving the North’s actions? Earlier assessments pegged the country as irrational or warped by its own ideology. But virtually every expert now dismisses those explanations, saying that North Korea has managed its history-defying survival too cannily to be anything but coldly rational.
North Korea envisions the United States one day concluding that it has grown too powerful to coerce and the status quo too risky to maintain, leading Washington to accept a grand bargain in which it would drop sanctions and withdraw some or all of its forces from South Korea.
Interestingly, the relationship between the world and North Korea shares a few similarities to the relationship between the world and China back in the 50s and 60s:
Mao Zedong’s China began, in the 1950s, as a pariah state, isolated and threatened by the United States. It became, in the 1960s, a rogue nuclear power. And then it rose, through the 1970s, into an accepted member of the international community, embraced even by its onetime adversary.
China ultimately won acceptance by playing the United States against the Soviet Union, not by rattling nuclear sabers. Its size and power also made it impossible for other nations to ignore it, advantages that North Korea lacks.
But North Korea’s desperation, as well as its longtime obsession with China, may have led it to see the possibility, however misguided, of achieving success by following Beijing’s script.
Richard Nixon formally visited China in 1972, and although it was a controversial move, history has shown that it signified a huge first step in the country’s relations with the world, not just the U.S.
What’s stopping us from doing the same with North Korea? Food for thought. What do you think?