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USA vs North Korea – Kim Jong un fires four missiles to challenge Biden administration

USA vs North Korea – Kim Jong un fires four missiles to challenge Biden administration


  • GS2 || International Relations || India & Rest of the World || USA

Why in the news?

In resuming its ballistic testing activity after a yearlong pause, North Korea has recently demonstrated a potentially nuclear-capable weapon that shows how it continues to expand its military capabilities amid a stalemate in diplomacy with the United States.

North Korea: A brief introduction

  • North Korea is geographically located at the northern portion of the Korean peninsula, which juts out from the Asian mainland between the East Sea (Sea of Japan) and the Yellow Sea
  • North Korea covers about 55 percent of the peninsula’s land area.
  • The country is bordered by China and Russia to the north and by South Korea to the south.
  • After the inconclusive Korean War in 1950, the area controlled by the Communist leader Kim Il-sung was known as ‘North Korea’.
  • The division at the 38th parallel (which divided North and South Korea) was replaced by the Korean Demilitarized Zone.

North Korea’s military capacity:

  • North Korea has one of the world’s largest conventional military forces, which, combined with its missile and nuclear tests and aggressive rhetoric, has aroused concern worldwide.
  • North Korea’s military is the world’s fourth largest, with nearly 1.3 million active personnel, accounting for about 5 percent of the total population. More than six hundred thousand others serve as reserve soldiers.
  • Article 86 of the North Korean constitution states, “National defence is the supreme duty and honour of citizens,” and it requires all citizens to serve in the military.
  • The regime spent an average of $3.6 billion annually on the military between 2007 and 2019, according to the U.S. State Department.
  • The North Korean military also has more than 1,300 aircraft, nearly 300 helicopters, 430 combatant vessels, 250 amphibious vessels, 70 submarines, 4,300 tanks, 2,500 armoured vehicles, and 5,500 multiple-rocket launchers.
  • North Korea has also developed computer science know-how and cyberattack capabilities, likely boosted by Chinese and Soviet assistance in the 1980s and 1990s.

North Korea and International agreements:

  • North Korea has withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and pulled out of the 1994 Agreed Framework, a plan to provide it with energy in exchange for abandoning its nuclear weapons ambitions.
  • North Korea is a party to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) and Geneva Protocol, but is suspected of maintaining an offensive weapons program in defiance of the BTWC.

Reasons behind increasing militarisation by North Korea:

  • Guiding doctrine of national security: North Korea’s guiding philosophical principles have been juche (self-reliance) and songun (military-first politics).
  • The significant role of Military in national affairs: The military plays a central role in political affairs and its position has been steadily elevated through the Kim dynasty.
  • Military power to compensate for the deteriorating economic conditions: Since the North Korean rule Kim has struggled to deliver on his economic promises, he seeks to consolidate his rule by demonstrating unquestioned military might.
  • Nuclear weapon as guarantee of survival for ruling Kim dynasty: The nuclear program of North Korea has a dual purpose: First, to deter external threats and to bolster the image of Kim. And second, Kim Jong-un believes that nuclear weapons are his guarantee of regime survival.
  • Lack of global connectedness and economic isolation: The North’s economy and impoverished population of twenty-five million are more and more cut off from the global economy. It has further led the dictator to develop militarisation.
  • Chinese influence: It is also suspected that China has been using North Korea as a proxy country to strike fear among US and its ally countries in the region.

India-North Korea relations:

  • India and North Korea both have growing trade and diplomatic relations.
  • India maintains an embassy in Pyongyang, and North Korea has an embassy in New Delhi.
  • India was one of North Korea’s biggest trade partners and a major food aid provider prior to UN economic sanctions
  • India’s exports to North Korea in 2013 totalled more than US$60 million
  • However India has implemented United Nations Security Council economic sanctions and stopped most trade with North Korea in April 2017.
  • India is a critic of North Korea’s nuclear proliferation record and has also voiced concerns of denuclearisation and disarmament.
  • India has repeatedly condemned North Korean nuclear tests and views its nuclear programme as a threat to regional security
  • However, most recently, India has provided $1 Million medical assistance to North Korea during the COVID – 19 pandemic.
  • India has always endorsed a peaceful agreement between North Korea & South Korea. India is also in strong favour of reunification of both Koreas.

US-North Korea tension:

  • The political and diplomatic relations between North Korea and the United States have been historically hostile since the Korean War.
  • Sweden acts as the protecting power of United States interests in North Korea for consular matters
  • In recent time relations have been largely defined by heavy U.S. military presence in South Korea, joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises in the South China Sea, US economic sanctions against North Korea for North Korea’s nuclear program and North Korea’s demand that the United States eliminate its nuclear arsenal that could reach the Korean peninsula.
  • Neither the United States nor North Korea has adopted a No First Use nuclear weapons policy.

US-North Korea Peace negotiations:

  • In 2003, China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States engaged in six-party talks, which led to North Korea in 2005 vowing to abandon its nuclear programs and become a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
  • In 2008, the US also had removed North Korea from the US “State Sponsors of Terrorism” lis
  • Later, Six-party talks on verification, disablement, and energy assistance reached an impasse mainly due to a failure to agree on verification protocols and a North Korean rocket launch.
  • In 2017, under the Trump administration, the US and North Korea embarked upon peace negotiations which included several rounds of talks.
  • However, none of the talk rounds yielded anything concrete.
  • President Trump, South Korean President and Kim Jong Un also met at the demilitarised zone (DMZ) and crossed the border.
  • North Korea has shown no indication that it is willing to unilaterally denuclearise as per U.S. intentions
  • In early 2021, the United States under the presidency of Joe Biden attempted a new outreach to North Korea, to which they were unresponsive.

Challenges in US-North Korea agreement:

  • Nature of the State itself: North Korea is being ruled by the Kim dynasty with iron hands. The state has gone rouge since it decided to abandon all international agreements in the pursuit of nuclear weapons.
  • China factor: China is North Korea’s closest ally and has the most leverage to get it to the table in a way acceptable to the United States. It has recently been taking a firmer line with Pyongyang. But it has been reluctant to support sanctions, let alone military force. Deteriorating China-US relations is just an addition to that.
  • Fear of destruction in South Korea: South Korea’s policy of engagement with the North has been set back by the nuclear crisis, but there continues to be very strong opposition to the use of force, not least because this could well lead to the destruction of Seoul.
  • Russia’s attitude: Russia has also been opposing sanctions or the use of force.

Way forward:

Since most of efforts between both countries to establish peace have been seemingly failing, following options are available for the US and its allies to deal with North Korea:

  • Acceptance of Nuclear Power: North Korea could just be accepted as a nuclear power, as others have been, but the dangers of this appear unacceptably high.
  • Status Quo: The current situation could be maintained, under which North Korea, in exchange for unofficial security guarantees, does not test or trade its weapons. But this offers no guarantee that North Korea would not escalate the situation at any time.
  • Coercive economic sanctions: There could be coercion falling short of military action, involving sanctions and interdiction. But there are concerns about both the cost to the North Korean people and the likely impact upon the regime of such an approach.
  • Military actions: There could be use of military force, either a limited strike on the Yongbyon ( nuclear enrichment centre) and other nuclear facilities or an effort to change the regime by force, probably involving a full-scale invasion of the country. But there is no guarantee that a limited strike would eliminate the weapons program, and it could provoke massive retaliation. An invasion would have terrible consequences for the Korean peninsula and the wider region.

Model Mains Question:

  1. What are the main challenges in US-North Korea peace negotiations? Do you think direct ‘Military Action’ by the US would be the correct precedent to deal with the increasing militarisation of North Korea?