And yet we seem not any closer to solving the puzzle posed by how to deal with the DPRK. With the world’s only superpower embroiled in two full-scale wars in the Middle East region, North Korea disappears from the media’s radar till the next crazy stunt that Kim Jong-Il pulls. Beyond being a limitless source of jokes for political satire shows, North Korea has shown itself to be a unstable nation that can pose significant threats to security and stability within the international system.
There are various factors that affect North Korea’s influence on international politics over the next decade, of which leadership and nuclear weapons play a major role. With Kim Jong-Il pushing sixty-eight with one stroke under his belt, pundits predict greater involvement of the Dear Leader’s youngest son, Kim Jong-Un. And the similarities between the two are just disturbing enough to give concern to the international community. Both glorify the military and want to protect the nuclear legacy that has been created. The threat of the use of nuclear weapons can leverage the ability of the Kim family to stay in power, as aid flows to prevent their use.
In the years to come, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions will be the security issue that dominates East Asia. Even for the rest of the world, North Korea’s nuclear growth is worrying as a country without any real linkages to the rest of the globe, it can not really be reigned in by negative economic repercussions or dissenting political opinion. In the region, the only country capable of influencing the decisions of the North Koreans are the Chinese. China needs to be more forward thinking of its support of the DPRK (as North Korea’s only trade partner), moving beyond present economic gain to challenging future military threats.
For the rest of the international community, the question of containing North Korea is vital as it needs to effectively deter the use of nuclear weapons (which usually occurs due to constraints placed by the international structure) without giving aid that ends up abetting the nuclear regime. Without a leadership that understands the consequences of the use of nuclear weapons and views their use as taboo (true of more or less all the nuclear powers), it is hard to see the future of North Korea changing into anything more than a more dangerous version of its current reality.