Korean Contradiction

November 26, 2006

North Korea’s regime is revealing more signs of weakness. After signing a deal for food aid from the International Red Cross two days ago, a North Korean official has made statements about the regime’s self-sufficiency in food.

An unnamed official spoke with South Korea’s YONHAP wire service and was quoted as saying, “We are fine. We can be self-sufficient,” when asked about the North’s food shortage. The official also criticized Seoul’s “attitude” toward the North.

While this is not an official statement from the government — unnamed sources often have their own agendas — it does seem to go in line with regime thinking in that it denies any internal problems. It also confirms that food shortage is an issue; if it weren’t, it would not be mentioned. The official’s interview with YONHAP is an indication that there are domestic weaknesses in North Korea and that the regime’s current way of dealing with it, will be criticizing South Korea. There are no more nuclear tests to be carried out. For now. Because the regime needs the financial sanctions against it lifted, and that requires a return to the six-party negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear program.

The former President of South Korea, Kim Daejung, has urged the US to lift its financial sanctions on North Korea. Daejung is among those that believe that these economic sanctions are, in fact, encouraging North Korea to develop its nuclear arms program.

The reasoning is simple enough and makes sense. The money being blocked by the US and its allies is needed for the North Korean regime to survive; without it, the country’s leadership needs to assert its power in other ways.

In that sense, the October 9 nuclear test was the government’s way of showing resolve and strength to its domestic audience. The test could have been postponed indefinitely, but it was North Korea’s last option with the financial sanctions in place. This would also explain President Kim Jong-Il belligerent discourse following the nuclear test.

The weakness of the North Korean regime is undeniable; in a document released yesterday, Amnesty International outlined the country’s worsening food crisis as well as the problem of child malnutrition. On the same day, the International Red Cross signed a three-year agreement with North Korea which will see the organization assist the government with food shortages and the provision of water supplies.

In the run up to the resumption of nuclear talks, North Korea has repeatedly called for the lifting of US financial sanctions. When these sanctions were originally imposed in 2005, North Korea walked away from the negotiating table. After the October 9 nuclear test, and several weeks of diplomatic signaling, North Korea said it was ready to return to talks.

The paradox is that the regime has gained strength in the meantime; having tested its nuclear capability, it has acquired the negotiating advantage.