North Korea’s Motivated Belligerence

Gone Berserk

On 13TH April North Korea claimed it tested a solid fuel ICBM Hwasong -18 with a range of more than 15,000 Km. Key factor was that missile is said to be solid fuel powered, a quantum improvement over liquid based fuel being incorporated till date. It is an indicative of increasing sophistication of North Korea’s weapons program. North Korea has surprised many observers with frequent ballistic missile launches. As per UN report North Korea has launched more than 100 missiles in 2022-23. The stark variation in just number of launches in last 3 years brings out new probabilities. Till few years back North Korea’s missile tests have been attributed to two key factors. Firstly, when US carried out military drills in the region and secondly, when North Korea had some new technology demonstration. But now it looks there’s something more to it.

North Korea’s recent missile launches suggest that it has a large inventory to afford launches with an absolute unrealistic frequency. Conspiracy theorists in the past have attributed technology theft by North Korean agents which is enabling North Korean nuclear program. That’s really being very simplistic and if that be the possibility many more countries would have gone nuclear by now. It’s a documented fact that CIA could not sustain covert arming programs in Afghanistan. An impoverished state like North Korea is successfully mustering financial and technological resources to sustain such an impressive program. Possibly a strong power is aiding, abetting and guiding North Korea’s weapons programs. Someone which has money & technology, common threat and ideological alignment and all of this perfectly fits China. That’s incredible really, whole world is busy spotting high flashes but not the fire beneath!

Bigger Picture

North Korea has been described by many as a rouge dictatorship and totalitarian socialist regime. It has a dynastic polity which started in 1948. It’s first premier Kim Il Sung who remained in power until his death in 1994 was declared president for life. In reality all the actions of North Korea can be linked to survival of the leadership and it’s authority. Naturally, then the focus is more on internal control rather than global ambitions. North Korea has not threatened anyone else apart from South Korea and US. It has not been ever accused of state sponsored terrorism like Pakistan, Afghanistan or Libya. It hasn’t interfered in domestic conflicts or civil wars in any part of the globe. While majority of middle powers like Turkey, Iran and Egypt are doing exactly that with impunity. Like most of the other nations, it carries reasonable views to global challenges. Interestingly, North Korea has ratified the Kyoto Protocol on global warming but not the US. It’s strange, but as it seems all other countries are more acceptable globally but not the North Korea. Who doesn’t want it to change course? Why not just leave it alone? How such a poor state with a GDP of barely $20 billion is sustaining such a costly counter action? Fact is, a quiet North Korea is of No use to China whereas, if it’s loud, it makes a perfect unsettling impact on US. It’s a Chinese smoke screen being blown by the North Korean leadership for the return promise of continuity.

Client State

North Korea has shown instincts of self-injurious behaviour and prepared to sustain a     self-harm. It is getting very obvious that North Korea is being harnessed to hunt the hunter. Hypothetically speaking if China decides to move its missile launchers into North Korean territory, they will simply let it happen. Since China brings money, it remains largest financier to North Korea accounting for over 90% of it’s exports & imports. China also continues to offer unconditional aid helping North Korea bypass impact of UN sanctions. North Korea alone accounts for more than half of the total foreign aid given by China.

Since China has already invested in such valuable assets it will protect North Korea come what may. Infact there’s a security pact already in form of Article 2 of Sino–North Korean Treaty of Friendship. It declares – “two nations undertake all necessary measures to oppose any country or coalition that might attack either nation”. It will be interesting if North Korea gets a clear military threat under the umbrella of this all encompassing treaty. The precedence suggests otherwise, a look at Belarus indicates Russia easily prevented a similar NATO plan. Russia simply moved a Brigade with some AD assets in Belarus in Feb 22, just before the Ukraine war. Demonstrating, if Russian forces are attacked even on foreign soil, it will be considered an attack on Russia. This evidently drew cold feet from NATO & US as the fear of reprisal was too severe. Invariably security guarantees given by top military powers to their client states are being honoured even by their worst adversaries!

Power Vacuum

Whoever felt demise of Soviet Union warranted celebrations in United States can now take a deep breath. It left US unchecked within, to follow national policies prepared by a bunch of ‘wise men’ manning respective country desks. They could have been morally and intellectually as strong or weak as any other human being. Worst still, US dumped entire might of a sole super power behind such – on the fly created policy decisions. It almost irritatingly took upon itself as an honorarium responsibility to ensure global order. So promoting democracy, preventing nuclear proliferations, championing the cause of human rights became US prime concern. US forced itself into being a world order of it’s own; replicating what mandate was meant for United Nations. It created a complete hara-kiri on the issue of balance between power and responsibilities.

US actions for each of the UN mandated role, earned it few friends and large adversaries. US various yearly reports, followed by lectures to half the globe, has drawn worst reaction from best of it’s friends. The trajectory that countries like North Korea has taken has majorly been fuelled by out of place policy flip flops of US and opportunists like China. This continues to awfully shock temperate minds. US visibly demonstrates it’s fiascos in Afghanistan, Iran, Ukraine or Middle East. The conflict in approach of US and UN to same challenge facing the world couldn’t have been more contrasting. US just concluded the largest ever military drills with Seoul in March this year. While UN in it’s 17th April report suggested – “Diplomacy not isolation is the only way forward,” with North Korea. It further regretted that – “the limited connect it has with North Korea has left it entirely unconstrained”. North Korean belligerence in reality appears less of mystery and more of a script. The issue begs the world to take a fresh look on global challenges rather than follow State Department’s handouts. Also it will spare everyone the agonising narrative of friends now and enemy again, which US has mastered by now! This will immensely contribute towards better balance and sanity to the global order.


(This article has been featured by a National Defence Magazine.)

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