The Singapore Summit between US President Trump and North Korean leader Kim was lighting a beacon of hope on the Korean Peninsula. After almost 70 years of unending war, a new historical chance was emerging that would gradually bring peace to the divided nation. But, after the summit, renewed frustration about a lack of progress was not long coming. Particularly, the US administration returned to old patterns of negotiation and demonstrated an ambiguous agenda.
On March 6, Pyongyang fired four missiles into the Sea of Japan and three of them landed in Japan’s ‘exclusive economic zone’ in Japanese territorial waters. The missiles travelled roughly 1.000 kilometres and landed as close as 300 kilometres from Japan’s northwest coast. For now, business as usual – at least more or less – for Japan’s defence planners and defence hawks. In 2016 alone North Korea conducted 20 missile and 2 nuclear tests and Tokyo has been within range of Pyongyang’s short and medium-range missiles for years.
The already troubled relations between Seoul and Pyongyang further deteriorated in the first half of 2016, due to a series of dramatic events. The year 2016 began with North Korea’s fourth nuclear test on January 6, which was internationally condemned and led to the adoption of new sanctions against Pyongyang. However, luckily it was not – as Pyongyang claimed - a hydrogen bomb test. One month later, on February 7, Pyongyang launched a long-range missile, claiming that it was putting a satellite into orbit.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is famously ill-named. All four words are false. It is no democracy; the people decide nothing. More hereditary monarchy than republic, its culture and institutions owe more to Stalin (who created it) and Mao than to anything Korean.
The prospects for the North Korean economy meeting Kim’s New Year’s demand that “…we should bring about an upturn in improving the people’s living standards”1 looked dim at the start of 2015. The self-imposed Ebola tourism ban lasted until April, cutting off a major foreign exchange earner.2 In
It has been a couple of very busy months for North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs. One nuclear test in January and a series of missile tests in February, March and April this year have made it impressively clear that Pyongyang was in the business of seeking to become as threatening as possible in the run-up to the Workers’ Party Convention on May 6.
As have been explained elsewhere in this dossier North Korea is flexing its military muscles actively and consciously increasing the risk of a military conflict with South Korea and its allies-small scale or not so small-scale.
One year has passed since the new leader, Kim Jong-un (age 30), rose to power in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The alleged “Will of Kim Jong-il”, Kim’s late father, demanded that the successor mend relations with South Korea, and move to resume the Six-Party talks, with the aim of gaining recognition as a nuclear power. Given these mandates, the last year might be seen as rather unsuccessful. So how can we explain the current developments in North Korea?
It is very difficult to draw any strategic consideration from the recent escalations in the Korean peninsula. No significant conclusion can be reached through merely analytical means.