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North Korea: Security threat or not?

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North Korea has proposed to its southern neighbor for an immediate cease on all provocative military actions to “better” the relationship between the two countries, according to media outlets.

The proposal comes mainly due to the annual joint military exercises between South Korea and the U.S. The timing for North Korea’s offer for amicable relations couldn’t be funnier. The isolationist state recently test fired missiles into the East Sea, and it drew much criticism from the international community.

North Korea has pulled off this trick more than anyone can count. Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, provokes the international community with its nuclear weapons test, missile launches, and its many threats of military action against South Korea. However, North Korea also requests bilateral or multi-lateral talks with countries like South Korea and the U.S. Pyongyang makes numerous claims for peace on the Korean peninsula, but in less than a year, they always break their “promises” for cooperation.

The question everyone should ask themselves is, “Is North Korea a security threat to the world?”

First, let’s define what security threat means. According to Wolfers (1962), “Security, in an objective sense, measures the absence of threats to acquired values, in a subjective sense, the absence of fear that such values will be attacked.”

Basically, security threats can be summarized into two categories: 1. A threat is present if one actor (a state or organization) is about to literally attack another state. 2. A threat is present if a state feels like they are under danger, regardless of whether or not an actor will really attack.

In these cases, how much of a security threat does North Korea pose? It’s true North Korea has been a security threat both in the objective and the subjective sense. The South Korean Cheonan naval ship was brought down by the North in 2010, which was a direct attack on the Republic of Korea (ROK). Its nuclear weapons tests and ballistic missile launches, although they weren’t fired directly at any other state, are provocations that make the reclusive state to be deemed a security threat. These actions are considered security threats, but what exactly is the North’s purpose for causing such a scene so often?

As most are aware, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is in economic turmoil, and its citizens constantly suffer from malnutrition. The CIA World Factbook estimates the GDP in North Korea to be roughly $1,800 USD per capita. However, the UN estimates North Korea’s GDP per capita at $506 USD. The economic sanctions placed against the state don’t help economic growth either.

Because the nation is in poverty, the DPRK has to find alternative methods to bring in money. At the moment, the North relies upon foreign aid to help feed its people. The DPRK causes ruckus in order to grab international attention. Its pleas for attention come in the form of nuclear weapons and military threats.

The DPRK has struck deals with the U.S. to dismantle its uranium plants for food and energy aid. The U.S. kept up its part of the bargain and helped the impoverished nation, but once the North got what it wanted, they always went back on their word. North Korea joined the Nonproliferation Treaty in 1985, but the North has always restricted access to certain facilities whenever the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) made their inspections. North Korea always pledged to halt all weaponizing of nuclear material in return for aid, but they have never followed through with their vows. They merely took and never gave. It seems the only leverage the DPRK has is the threat of military force when it comes to negotiations. So, it comes down to whether or not North Korea will actually use nuclear weapons or declare war. Sure, they are very aggressive when it comes to foreign policy or diplomacy, but they also know it would be highly ill-advised to attack the U.S. mainland or try to invade South Korea again. As long as they wave around their threat to do something impulsive, negotiations will continue through bilateral or multi-lateral talks. And as long as concerned state actors come to the table, they can ask for foreign aid (which they often do get).

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North Korea does provoke other nations, and sometimes those provocations are pressing security threats. However, most of their threats are a cry for attention and the international community must keep that in mind when they are dealing with the Stalinist state.

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Written by Isaac Kim

Hey there, I’m an aspiring journalist who is in the prime of his life. I’ve lived in America most of my life, but because I can adapt to anything, I’ve integrated quite well in Korean society. I hope to see the world and write about and share what I see. I like places with large bodies of water (especially the ocean), and one day, I will have a kickass beach house where I’ll spend my time writing and sipping mojitos.

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