But what North Korea wants is South Korea. It has always wanted South Korea, and it has never stopped saying that it wants South Korea. Its messianic vision of reunification has always rested on its express promise of reuniting Korea under its rule. You can try to pretend that away, but North Korea won’t be content to sit behind its borders and watch its legitimacy eroded away by unfavorable comparison — made vivid by every smuggled DVD of a South Korean TV drama — to a superior model of Korean nationhood.
This is consistent with a piece I quoted before, also via Mick:
North Korea would not need intercontinental ballistic missiles to strike South Korea, whose capital sits just 35 miles from their shared border. Pyongyang has had the ability to detonate nuclear devices in Seoul via short- and medium-range ballistic missiles for years. There’s also reason to question the wisdom of nuking a proud, democratic city of 25 million people before attempting to rule it.
What an ICBM does for North Korea is establish deterrence in the event of a reunification campaign.
Kim Jong Un thinks “the nuclear weapons will prevent US from getting involved,” Sun said. “That’s why we see more and more people making the argument that the North Korea’s nuclear development is not aimed at the US, not aimed at South Korea, but aimed at reunification.”
It should hardly be surprising that North Korea seeks reunification of the peninsula. When I was working in Seoul in 2005 I talked to some South Koreans about this, and they all agreed that reunification would happen one day. The only problem is Kim wants the unified Korea to be a Communist hell-hole, the South Koreans want it to look like South Korea, and the Chinese want to be sure they don’t have a hostile or (more likely) embarrassingly rich and democratic state on its borders raising awkward questions among its own population. As the BBC says:
China is key but it is a conflicted party. On the one hand it does not want to see a nuclear-armed North Korea and it has made its view clear to Pyongyang on many occasions.
Something which always gets left out of the reporting is that a nuclear North Korea is largely a problem of China’s own making. First they supplied Pakistan with the technology and materials to build nuclear weapons:
Since the 1970s, China has been instrumental in Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programs. China provided Pakistan with highly enriched uranium, ring magnets necessary for processing the uranium, and education for nuclear engineers. Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, in fact, is widely believed to be based on Chinese blueprints. Worse, in 1990 and 1992, China provided Pakistan with nuclear-capable M-11 missiles that have a range of 186 miles. China reportedly has provided the technology for Pakistan to build a missile that could strike targets within a 360-mile range.
A key figure in Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme was one A.Q. Khan, known as the father of the Pakistani bomb. To cut a long story short, this chap (and/or others in the Pakistani military) then wandered around the world flogging the technology to anyone who wanted it, chiefly Iran, Libya – and North Korea:
The story of the world’s worst case of nuclear smuggling took a new twist on Thursday when documents surfaced appearing to implicate two former Pakistani generals in the sale of uranium enrichment technology to North Korea in return for millions of dollars in cash and jewels handed over in a canvas bag and cardboard boxes of fruit.
The source of the documents is AQ Khan, who confessed in 2004 to selling parts and instructions for the use of high-speed centrifuges in enriching uranium to Libya, Iran and North Korea. Extracts were published by the Washington Post, including a letter in English purportedly from a senior North Korean official to Khan in 1998 detailing payment of $3m to Pakistan’s former army chief, General Jehangir Karamat, and another half-million to Lieutenant General Zulfiqar Khan, who was involved in Pakistan’s nuclear bomb tests.
It is unlikely that the proliferation of their nuclear missile technology and capabilities into North Korea via Pakistan was the intention of the Chinese government when they set out to assist Pakistan, but here we are. With Kim Jong-Un now testing hydrogen bombs, the proliferation horse has well and truly bolted.
The most logical step, although one that would horrify most people, is for South Korea to go nuclear, enabling it to retaliate in the event of a North Korean first use. The nightmare situation for South Korea is for the North to attack and before the South can eliminate the North (using conventional means) in response the Chinese step in and ensure the regime’s survival for their own ends. Yes, we’ve been here before. If the South was nuclear-armed, they could remove the regime before the Chinese could intervene and/or dissuade the Chinese from doing so in the first place.
If South Korea goes nuclear, and we’re fast approaching the point that they have every right to, Japan will quickly follow – and possibly Taiwan. This would cause the Chinese to go apoplectic, but it would be too late and their own fault. If I were the US, I’d be putting this scenario in front of the PRC and telling them it is both very much of their own making yet still within their powers to prevent it.