With Pyongyang on war footing, US must quickly defuse nuclear flashpoints
North Korea’s nuclear programme is a symptom of weakness, not strength. The reality is that it is comprehensively outspent, outgunned and out-resourced by the South.
While there is a premium for Pyongyang in being a nuclear weapon state, it has little option. The regime faces external and internal threats. The external military threat is clearly being countered with nuclear deterrence. The internal threat is less a “magnolia revolution”, more a court quarrel. Kim Jong-un needs to keep the people who matter happy by providing bread and circuses! The circuses are there, but the bread requires economic growth.
The key growth restraints are energy and manpower. The nuclear programme answers both questions.
Secondly, nuclear deterrence could free North Korea from maintaining such a large army. A standing army of close to 1.4 million could free more than 100,000 men just by cutting conscription by a year. The North has an unfashionable notion of drivers of growth, essentially massive factories and mines. Yet it just might work, drawing on its enormous pool of cheap skilled labour.
North Korean constitution change raises threat of nuclear war as it declares South its ‘top enemy’
Some close to the US administration are talking of a pre-emptive attack while a paranoid Pyongyang plans its response. The prophecy risks becoming self-fulfilling. Washington would win any fight, but it could be the ultimate pyrrhic victory.
Second, it should offer de facto recognition of Pyongyang as a nuclear weapons state, like India, Pakistan and Israel.
Third, engage with Beijing to encourage restraint by Pyongyang against further adventures in nuclear weapons and missile technology – in hydrogen bomb, miniaturisation and ICBM re-entry and guidance