Generational Dynamics: Forecasting America's Destiny Generational
 Forecasting America's Destiny ... and the World's


Generational Dynamics Web Log for 27-Sep-2008
North Korea resumes nuclear weapon development amidst generational succession struggle

Web Log - September, 2008

North Korea resumes nuclear weapon development amidst generational succession struggle

South Korea is considering retaliatory economic action, if North Korea goes ahead with its plans develop nuclear weapons. South Korea has been providing massive food and energy aid to North Korea, and is considering suspension of the energy aid. Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan points out that a resumption of nuclear weapons development would violate an existing 2006 UN Security Council resolution, and added, "This is related to the 'action-for-action' principle. North Korea is well aware of how we will react if it goes beyond the current parameters."

The situation is viewed very gravely in South Korea, because the two countries are technically still in a state of war, since the Korean War armistice in 1953.

According to a statement by Defense Minister Lee Sang-hee, following the North Korean announcement, "North Korea maintains a vast military and forward deploys more than 70 percent of its ground forces. It stands ready to mount a surprise attack any time. It continues to develop weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missiles and is a grave threat to the stability, not only of the Korean peninsula, but also the region."

Defense Expenditures as a percentage of GDP - top 25 countries, 2002.  The US would rank #47 on this chart. <font face=Arial size=-2>(Source: Congressional Research Service)</font>
Defense Expenditures as a percentage of GDP - top 25 countries, 2002. The US would rank #47 on this chart. (Source: Congressional Research Service)

In fact, according to a study (PDF) by the Congressional Research Service, North Korea spends the highest percentage of its GDP of any country in the world on military expenditures. This is despite the fact that the country's Communist government is unable to feed its people, resulting in frequent famine and starvation. In view of the country's spending priorities, it's reasonable to conclude that the country is preparing for war, and it's reasonable to assume that war would be directed against both South Korea and its hated enemy, Japan.

Concern has been heightened by the statements of a North Korean defector that North Korean president Kim Jong-il had used the disarmament negotiations as a ploy to get international aid, and that he already had an inventory of nuclear material and weapons.

According to the typical punditry in Washington, the North Koreans changed their minds because the Americans were insisting on inspecting their nuclear facilities. This is part of the hubris that assumes that everything that happens anywhere in the world happens because Washington does something or doesn't do something.

What's much more likely is that the sudden announcement was precipitated by an ongoing succession struggle.

When Kim Jong-il failed to appear on September 9 at 60th anniversary celebrations for the country, speculation about ill health began immediately.

It's now been 44 days since Kim has appeared in public, although North Korean officials have angrily denied that Kim is in ill health, and are bitterly criticizing "speculation by ill-intentioned people." It's now widely assumed that Kim has suffered a paralyzing stroke. This will be confirmed or refuted on October 10, when Kim is expected to appear at another major anniversary celebration.

Prominent billboard in Pyongyang, North Korea, 2003.  The right-most frame shows a North Korean spearing an American with a bayonet.
Prominent billboard in Pyongyang, North Korea, 2003. The right-most frame shows a North Korean spearing an American with a bayonet.

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A succession battle would throw the country into enormous turmoil for a long time. The Kim family has ruled North Korea since it declared independence in 1948, and speculation centers on his children, as well as his fourth wife, Kim Ok, who visited Washington in 1999.

It's also possible that the succession struggle is being dominated by China, who will act to install a China-friendly leader in North Korea.

Kim Jong-il, born in 1941, is a survivor of WW II and the subsequent war between North and South Korea. Like America's "Silent generation," the children who grow up during a crisis war suffer a kind of generational child abuse, and turn into reserved, indecisive adults.

His children and his young fourth wife have no such inhibitions, and are going to be far more confrontational and competitive. The new announcement of the resumption of nuclear development is exactly the kind of brinksmanship that one would expect of a more arrogant younger post-war generation.

Even if Kim recovers his health, the current development signals a new period of great international turmoil over North Korea's intentions. If the defector's statements are true, then North Korea could be ready to launch nuclear missiles at South Korea or Japan in a fairly short time frame. And, as usual, what matters in these situations is the perceptions rather than the truth. If the masses of South Koreans or Japanese believe that North Korea is now preparing for war, the probability of a miscalculation spiraling into war becomes greater.

An editorial from the German paper Süddeutsche Zeitung describes the situation as follows:

"The Stalinist dictatorship can only continue to exist if the pressures from inside and outside are reasonably equal. If the attention from outside were to disappear then the regime would be eaten up by domestic problems. It always comes down to a question of existence.

It seems that the country is now going through an important transformation. The negotiated disarmament program is being sacrificed and uranium enrichment is being restarted. North Korea is making itself dangerous again, thus destroying the progress achieved in negotiations over the past six years.

Why? There is no obvious answer to so much irrationalism and from the outside it is hard to understand the motives. It is obvious that the outrageous provocations have something to do with the credible reports about the poor health of Kim Jong Il. If Kim is really not recovering or is even already dead, then the North Korea that will be unleashed on the world will be marked by power struggles and wild survival tactics. The restarting of the nuclear program would be a central part of any claim to power. Whoever has the bomb has the power. The country is once again becoming one of the world's problem cases."

From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, there will be a crisis war of Korean unification with near 100% certainty, and that Japan will be pulled into this war. My expectation is that China will be North Korea's ally in this war, especially because China is already planning for a war with America over Taiwan. (27-Sep-2008) Permanent Link
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