News / Asia

Experts: N. Korea Seeks Nuclear Weapons for Leverage, Legitimacy

Official of Japan's earthquake agency points at graph of ground motion waveform data observed Feb. 12, 2013 from North Korean nuclear testOfficial of Japan's earthquake agency points at graph of ground motion waveform data observed Feb. 12, 2013 from North Korean nuclear test
x
Official of Japan's earthquake agency points at graph of ground motion waveform data observed Feb. 12, 2013 from North Korean nuclear test
Official of Japan's earthquake agency points at graph of ground motion waveform data observed Feb. 12, 2013 from North Korean nuclear test
North Korea, one of Asia’s poorest nations, has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in developing nuclear weapons. Yet that ambition has resulted in ever-tightening economic and diplomatic sanctions that make its poverty and isolation worse.

As the world assesses Pyongyang's third nuclear weapons test, many policymakers ask why North Korea persists with its nuclear ambitions.

North Asia security experts say one key reason is that Pyongyang sees nuclear weapons as a tool to get international attention and to force bigger, wealthier nations - chiefly the United States, to negotiate with it.

Bruce Klingner, a Northeast Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation research institute, says that North Korea often alternates between trying to charm and then trying to intimidate the international community to get what it wants.

Very often, he says, even when it tries to charm, Pyongyang provokes, and it finds provocation useful.

“In a way, it makes them relevant," Klingner saidTuesday.  "If they didn’t have nuclear weapons, if they didn’t have a large conventional army, if they didn’t saber rattle, then we could ignore them.”

The Korean Peninsula was divided after World War II into a communist-ruled North and a U.S.-backed South. From 1950 to 1953, the two fought a bitter war that ended in a draw; they signed an armistice but never a peace treaty. North and South Korea remain technically at war.

Over the decades, South Korea has evolved into a thriving democracy that is one of the wealthiest nations in the world. It is firmly allied with the United States, which bases about 28,000 American troops in the country, as a deterrence to the North.

The North has been increasingly isolated since the end of the Cold War between the former Soviet Union and Western nations. As its former allies turned to open markets and democracy, Pyongyang lost trade and income. For two decades, its main source of trade and aid has been neighboring China.

The government remains firmly in the hands of the ruling Workers Party, and its current leader, Kim Jong Un, followed his grandfather and father to rule North Korea.

But the economy has declined steadily over the past 30 years, and North Korea suffered a famine in the mid-1990s. Even now, it relies on foreign aid to feed its people.

The country’s leaders emphasize its military over its economy.  Regional analysts say this is partly because of fears of its stronger neighbor and the United States.

Raymond Tanter, an expert on weapons proliferation at Georgetown University, also says Pyongyang uses its military focus to maintain legitimacy at home.

“The North Korean leadership has traditionally chosen guns over butter, that is to say the military option over feeding the people. And I think that this test is to galvanize the people around Kim Jong Un as a great leader in the tradition of his grandfather and his father,” Tanter says.

Maintaining the Kim dynasty, several analysts have said, is so important to Pyongyang that it is willing to defy United Nations sanctions against it, and even rebel against the guidance of its ally, China. Joining the international community just is not important to North Korea, they say.

You May Like

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Jonathan Huang from: canada
February 13, 2013 1:11 PM
Sadam didnt have MDW, however died on this fake excuse. Kadhafi gave up its nuke program to please the west then got himself killed with humiliation.
Iran and NK definitely learned the lesson. Hell they will give up the only change to keep them safe. And China still needs NK to distract US and Jap. US behaves unfriendly on Diaoyu island issue, China then doesnt have to help it on NK issue, simple and clear.

by: Zert McDrogon from: Sarasota, fl
February 12, 2013 7:36 PM
Kim Jong Un watched the last dictator who tried to play nice with the rest of world dragged through the streets by his own people. Obama taught every dictator a lesson; get more nukes or similar things could happen to you.

by: Bill from: Sunshine Coast
February 12, 2013 7:11 PM
It seems we do not understand the North Korean thought processes. All this money and effort to develop a weapon they can never use without inviting total annihilation. Perhaps the Chinese recognise this as all just posturing, which is why they take a fairly lenient line with North Korea. After all, would China want a nuclear confrontation on its door step, a war which would poison its atmosphere?
In Response

by: Zinder from: Cambridge,MA
February 13, 2013 8:39 AM
There is no alternative to accepting North Korea as a nuclear nation. We live in a world full of hypocrisy and multiple standards. Who permitted other nations to store nuclear weapons? Are they ready to relinquish them? You cannot intimidate all nations.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More