Victor Cha writes article about North Korea’s core goals

Victor Cha has published an article the October edition of The Washington Quarterly. Its been quite a while since I read anything by Victor Cha (or any author writing about North Korea). Victor’s analysis is not dissimilar to Nicholas Eberstadt‘s and wasn’t really anything new.

The article by Professor Cha examines what the core goals of North Korea are and how those goals explain the behaviour of the North Korean regime. The three core goals of North Korea are to possess nuclear capacity; to be recognised as a nuclear state; and to ensure regime survival. The first goal has already been achieved.

Cha rightly points out that the last two goals are not acceptable. In terms of being recognised as a nuclear state, he posits that North Korea ultimately wants a deal similar to the one India and Pakistan got with the US – recognition as a nuclear state for nothing. In my opinion, it was a bad idea to arrange such a deal with India and Pakistan. And as the article points out it would be silly to do such a deal with North Korea.

The guarantee for regime security is  not only something the US shouldn’t give; its something the US can’t give. As the article notes, while its one thing for the US to say they won’t attack North Korea its quite another to guarantee the regime’s survival. I would say a guarantee like that would be totally un-workable. For example, the US can’t promise to ensure North Korea’s security if someone else decided to attack them. In an event such as an uprising by the people of North Korea as a result of changes brought on by opening up to aid and or greater exchanges from the US, the US would hardly be in a position to guarantee regime survival in that situation (assuming they would even want to). Similarly, if China, or other state, sees its opportunity to make a move into North Korea ostensibly to stabilise it, or whatever reason they may give, there wouldn’t be much US could do about that (without provoking something US probably wouldn’t want to get involved in).

In context then, what is left for Obama to do? According to Cha he needs to try and keep China on board and to talk to China and South Korea to ensure that, in the event of North Korean regime’s collapse there is some semblance of an arrangement on how to proceed. It’s a good idea but in reality I expect that if any of the parties involved see their chance they will grab it to get the upper hand. All good intentions or plans will be out the window in the full knowledge that all other parties involved will do the same thing given the chance.

And so ultimately the conclusion that Victor comes to (and which I have noted in the past) is that the best thing to do right now is to negotiate in order to do less damage than doing nothing or acting belligerently. At least during negotiations there are periods when the nuclear programme is frozen (or at least bits of it).


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October 2009
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