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North Korea Links Nuclear Arms to Economy - 2003-06-09

Communist North Korea says it wants nuclear weapons to save money on conventional forces, not to threaten other nations. Pyongyang also repeated that it needs a strong deterrence in the face of what it calls a hostile U.S. policy toward it.

North Korea for the first time Monday linked its quest for nuclear arms to the idea it could save money and help revive its struggling economy. An editorial from North Korea's official news agency says having nuclear weapons would enable Pyongyang to reduce its standing army of about one million troops, the third largest in the world.

The North says it would redirect the funds to badly needed economic development. Analysts and aid groups say the Stalinist state's economy is on the verge of collapse and that many people are malnourished.

Hideshi Takesada, a professor at Japan's National Institute for Defense Studies, is skeptical of the North's claims. He notes that it has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to develop nuclear arms and other weapons, despite the crushing poverty of most North Korean citizens.

Professor Takesada says that nuclear weapons production potentially offers huge profits for Pyongyang, which could export bombs to countries such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Pakistan to earn foreign currency. He says Monday's comments from North Korea also reconfirms the country's economic woes and is another indication of its desire to hold direct talks with Washington.

As Pyongyang has done previously, the editorial Monday blames the United States for North Korea's nuclear development, saying it is a response to what it calls a hostile U.S. policy. North Korea says it needs to deter a possible U.S. attack, in the wake of a U.S.-led war against Iraq over the issue of weapons of mass destruction.

Since North Korea's re-emerging nuclear program first sparked international concern last October, Pyongyang has demanded economic aid and formal U.S. security guarantees before it would consider giving up its nuclear ambitions.

The United States says North Korea has it backwards and needs to honor all its agreements to be nuclear free before receiving aid from the international community. Washington has also urged Pyongyang to discuss the issue with South Korea, Japan and other nations, but the North continues to push for one-on-one discussions with the United States.