What Kim Jong Il Wants

"What does North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il want?"

Answers to that question, posed by Germany's Spiegel Online after last week's confirmed nuclear test, abound in the international online media. The reclusive leader is said to be using his nuclear capability to extract concessions, protect his government, blackmail his neighbors or make money -- perhaps all of the above.

The North Korean leader, presiding over an impoverished nation with an enormous military, has parlayed nuclear weapons expertise into economic and geopolitical advantage. Though his country has suffered famine and stagnation since he took power in 1994, Kim has maintained his grip on near-absolute power and obtained food and trade assistance both from longtime ally China and longtime enemy South Korea. Now that he controls weapons of mass destruction, observers say the question of his motives has never mattered more.

Kim's personal eccentricities -- he watches Hollywood movies, wears platform shoes and sports a bouffant hairstyle in order to appear taller than his 5 feet 3 inches -- are often detailed in news reports.

"Diplomats and escaped dissidents talk of a vain, paranoid, cognac-guzzling hypochondriac," the BBC noted last week.

But the BBC but warned against the assumption that such "eccentricity means inability."

"Mr Kim is said to assiduously follow international events on the internet, and some see him as a clever manipulator, willing to take great risks to underpin his regime....Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who has met Mr Kim, said that the North Korean leader was very well informed and 'was not delusional'."

In a recent Washington Post op-ed, Aaron Friedberg, a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, described Kim as "a cunning and rational strategist with one overriding objective: ensuring his own survival by maintaining an absolute grip on power."

He's "a wily nutbar," says Edmonton Sun columnist Lyn Cockburn, "who knows exactly how to keep his starving people in check, his army in top form and the West on the edge of its seat."

So just what does Kim hope to accomplish?

Strong-Arming the U.S.

"Pyongyang apparently believes that prolonging the nuclear crisis will be advantageous by confirming it as a nuclear power, which will lead toward an international solution through talks with the United States," said Japan's Daily Yomiuri.

Selig Harrison, a Washington-based critic of the Bush administration's Korea policy, told the Britain's New Statesman that last week's test was intended to rebuff a financial embargo imposed by Washington last year and force the Washington to negotiate directly with his government.

"In North Korean eyes, pressure must be met with pressure to maintain national honour, and, hopefully, to jump-start new bilateral negotiations with Washington," he told the British news magazine.

But the Tapei Times suggests any attempts at reviving six-party talks are pointless.

"All has been futile because the North Koreans are not serious about negotiating. What they want is evident: A peace treaty ending the Korean War of 1950-1953, which the US is willing to sign. Beyond that, they want a non-aggression pact, diplomatic relations with the US, a lifting of sanctions, an abrogation of the US-South Korea security treaty and all US troops off the Korean Peninsula," writes Richard Halloran. "For the US, most of those demands are not negotiable. And even if they were, there is no guarantee that North Korea, with its record of broken agreements, would give up nuclear weapons."

Self-Preservation or Blackmail?

"North Korea claims its nuclear capability serves as a deterrence to protect its own security," said the editors Japan's Asahi Shimbum on Monday. "But to our ears, this sounds like nothing more than a self-serving excuse. This is a nation that has committed acts of state terrorism, including the abduction of foreign nationals. It has repeatedly defied international rules. We suspect Pyongyang wanted to possess nuclear weapons so they could be used to blackmail the world into accommodating its every irrational whim and demand."

Last week, the Korea Times also described the nuclear test as "blackmail." But on Monday, the Seoul daily said self-protection might also have motivated Kim.

"If Colin Powell's autobiography is correct, however, the U.S. neocons' eventual goal is regime change in Pyongyang and the six-party meeting was just a pretense," said KT editors. "The isolationist regime's sense of the U.S. security threat may be overblown, but not entirely groundless. "

South Korea now must think twice about responding to the North's military provocations, says Chosun Ilbo, another Seoul daily.

"The North's nuclear test stripped 48 million South Koreans and 600,000 troops naked at once. Even if we were capable of independent defense at a cost of hundreds or thousands of trillions of won, the country wouldn't be able to deter a nuclear-armed North Korea. If the North repeats provocations in the West Sea, the South Korean president and military leadership would have to worry about the North's nuclear weapons before countering them."

Making Money

Several pundits say North Korea could profit from a nuclear arsenal and not suffer economically for its defiance of the international community.

North Korea earned about $1 billion through sales of missiles and arms between 1997 and 2000, notes Ehsan Ahrari, a U.S. based defense consultant writing in the Asia Times. He cites a 2005 Congressional Research Service report designating the country as the world's 11th-largest supplier of arms to developing countries.

Kim "might well be thinking along the lines of A Q Khan, the founder of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program," Ahrari wrote. "Khan, by his own admission in 2004, at one time ran a nuclear bazaar aimed at proliferating nuclear weapons know-how to North Korea, Iran and Libya."

"North Korea's potential customers - ie, countries which have conducted business with Kim in terms of purchasing cruise and ballistic missiles - include Angola, Myanmar, Egypt, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Rwanda, Libya, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Uganda, Vietnam, Yemen, Zaire and Zimbabwe."

"Finally, it should be asked whether Pyongyang would be willing to sell a 'dirty bomb' to the likes of al-Qaeda," says Ahrari. "After all, both North Korea and al-Qaeda share an intense hatred for the lone superpower."

And despite heightened tensions with its southern neighbor, the Korea Herald says North Korea may not lose all lucrative ties with the south, whose government appears "hesitant to make any drastic changes."

"Seoul halted shipments of rice, fertilizer and cement to the North last week following the nuclear test," the Seoul daily reported Monday. "But President Roh held a meeting with the CEOs of firms engaged in inter-Korean businesses and listened to their strong appeal" to allow business to continue at Mount Geumgang, a popular tourist destination, and the Gaeseong Industrial Park. The two projects have netted North Korea hundreds of millions of dollars in hard currency, according to the Herald.

"So far, the government has maintained that these supplies of hard currency were necessary as part of 'expenditures for future reunification.' Now officials argue that an abrupt end to these remittances could provoke the North and trigger an increased security threat to the South."

"For the people of the Republic of Korea who have just experienced the worst 'provocation' from the North since the Korean War, the hardest thing for them to understand is the logic that continued aid to the North is necessary in order not to 'provoke' them," says the Herald.

There is nothing necessarily contradictory about these interpretations of Kim's motives. Blackmail, after all, can protect, intimidate and generate profit all at the same time.

By Jefferson Morley |  October 17, 2006; 9:00 AM ET  | Category:  Asia
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

QUOTE SEE NYTIMES: Ex-Aide Says Evangelicals Mocked in White House (ABCNews.com)
Perhaps wrong subject but equally important. Quite frankly was relieved to read this. Meant that Bush, etc., is not as religious as he pretends. In this day and age a "non-believer (atheist)" actually is closer to a god (whatever that means) than the artificial christian religious groups here in the US. Happy to see that Bush has moved forward - may get my vote.

Posted by: Godspeed | October 17, 2006 10:04 AM

Jefferson Morley's article "What Kim Jong II Wants" should substitute "The Bush administration" every time it mentions "Kim Jong II" and his quest to "maintain his grip on near-absolute power." -- the article would be just as accurate read this way. The fact that Wash Post "journalists" can not see through and will not go up against the out-of-control Bush administration is, well, astounding, and dangerous. Guess what? Tyranny can happen here. Wake up and stop supporting domination, brutality and deception. There were no WMD's in Iraq. Why don't you talk about that? There aren't any in Iran either. Stop dehumanizing people in order to make it palatable to the US public to bomb them. -- Sincerely, A. Kiely, Brooklyn, NY

Posted by: Aaron Kiely | October 17, 2006 01:01 PM

North Koreans and Rwandans cutting cruise missile deals while telling Monica Lewinsky jokes with Randy Cunningham - bring it on it's the WWF with nukes, Slim Pickens decals on the smoked glass windows of NASCAR world.

Posted by: Reynolds | October 17, 2006 01:45 PM

Amen to Aaron Kiely's entry... I was being forced to endure Fox "News" the other day at the gym and felt the exact same way as Mr. Kiely. From an INTERNATIONAL viewpoint (not our own egocentric one) we (or Bush) are the same animal as North Korea (or Kim Jong). They're both a bit off their rockers, a bit too power hungry and a bit too sure that THEIR way is the ONLY way. And does NO ONE "get" that WE are STILL the ONLY country that has actually USED "WMDs" on human beings? If ANY country should have sanctions set upon them to force them to disarm, it SHOULD be US. And also remember, that when WE used our WMDs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we ALREADY HAD a surrender (albeit "conditional") from Japan in our hands.

We have NO right to act as World Police. And we certainly have no moral high-ground to justify that role either. Glass houses... and the award for the most ignorant, backward, entitled, least empathetic, neanderthalic and xenophobic country goes to...

Posted by: E-Dogg | October 17, 2006 01:49 PM

Americans took advantage of the September 11 and surrounded China by invading Afghanistan. They also established bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

Americans are trying to build an alliance against China in Asia with the help of Japan, Australia, and India.

Chinese reacted to this alarming situation and signed various treaties with neighbouring countries such as Pakistan. China also accelerated the development of Gawadar port with the help of Pakistan as a wider strategy to counter the American influence in the region.

China is also trying to counter the American influence in Asia by building new alliances such as Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). It consists of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, while Iran, Mongolia, India, and Pakistan have an observer status. SCO asked the USA to set a timeline to withdraw its military from the region in 2005.

Read More ...


Posted by: Muhammad Azeem Akhter | October 17, 2006 02:35 PM

Nobody really seems to know what North Korea want. We do know that they want some kind of dialogue with the U.S. I read on the internet, that there were contacts between the Rabin government in Israel and North Korea, and the Israelis thought it was because they saw Israel as a conduit to the American government. But, the American government, at the time, asked the Israelis not to deal with them. While I do not think it is possible under the Bush Administration, but exploratory talks might be useful in a future administration.
By way of historical perspective, even before the Nixon move toward China, there was talk of an alliance with the Communists Chinese because they were aggressively fighting the Japanese in WWII. In deed, the OSS fought beside Tito's forces and the Communist Vietnamese against the Germans and Japanese respectively. Ho Chi Minh was also interested in a relationship with the U.S. I read somewhere that Senator Mark Hatfield was with the OSS in Vietnam during WWII.
However, the North Koreans seem to be very persistant about a relationship with the U.S.

Posted by: P. J. Casey | October 17, 2006 03:57 PM

I think people should wake up and realize that this article is about Kim and North Korea.

This may suprise you but NK is not some pipe dream cooked up sololy to brainwash the masses of the amarican public.

Posted by: Duck | October 17, 2006 04:15 PM

Can we get the Bush-haters off of one single topic? Kiely/e-doog: your comparing US and NK is pathetic...doesn't even merit return fire...either stay on topic or get yourselves to moveon.org...a much better venue for the self-haters and fools among us.

Posted by: Big Time | October 17, 2006 05:37 PM

One of the most dangerous mistakes made by the bush administration was the war in iraq...it was a complete lie from the start, and we are seeing its dangerous impact now...now that it is justified to use military force (against countries like iran and north korea, who are threatning to erase countries off the map, israel and south korea respectevely) the card has already been pulled and it is not easy con carry out such an action......

Posted by: Marcos from Buenos Aires, Argentina | October 17, 2006 09:57 PM

Well at least it is comforting to know that some people around the world aren't as myopic as the American left and its "talk first, talk only" mentality. What does it matter if we are talking to them or not if nothing is being accomplished? Clinton talked to them for years and they played him for a fool, developing nuclear weapons in secret and continuing their illicit activities all while not being any more open than they had been before. Bush stopped talking to them, or more accurately they stopped talking to us, and they continued with their nuclear weapons program and illicit sale of arms, drugs, and anything else they can counterfiet. So again, what is the difference? If we know that his only aim is to wring concessions from us in order to increase his power, as his actions have proven, what good does talking do? I think it is high time that some folks around the world wake up and realize that some people are just plain bad and have no interest in changing, no matter how nice we are to them. I know that is simplistic language, maybe even overly so, but I think it is effective nevertheless. We don't all live in some post-modern candyland where everyone is accepting of everyone and there aren't any problems, except Western Europe. If you don't believe me just ask them, they'll tell you. The world is far more Hobbesian than utopian and we as Americans need to understand that and elect leaders who understand that. We also need to stop being afraid to stand up and say that there is an elephant in the room, as admission is the first step in dealing with any problem.

Trust always in Reason


Posted by: Archimedes | October 17, 2006 11:44 PM

Here's some information for all the "Kim Lovers" that heap praise upon Kim, Jong-Il.

Go back to 1998 (remember the food crunch and millions of starving ordinary citizens);

In Pyongyang, Kim, Jong-Il, at a cost of $900 million U.S., refurbished (not constructed), his daddy's Office Building into a Mausoleum for placing Kim, Il-Sung's embalmed body.

Then, at another cost of $100 million U.S., paid for the embalming of Kim, Il-Sung's body and placing it within the converted Office Building.

Try to imagine how many boatloads of food for the millions of starving North Korean ordinary people $1 BILLION U.S. would have bought.

Now, also remember that a reported 2 million North Korean citizens starved to death; others resorted to cannibalism to try and survive.

What type of person is Kim, Jong-Il? Like the saying of American Farmers; Don't speak with your mouth full.

Posted by: David | October 18, 2006 03:12 AM

Offer him the part as the bad guy in the next James Bond movie?
Paris Hilton?

Posted by: | October 18, 2006 03:05 PM

I must respond to anyone from an Asian country or from the US that compares Kim to GW Bush.

For context, I despise Bush and feel that he has lost the US goodwill and credibility in the world for the next 20 years by going into Iraq. His domestic policies have hurt this country badly for another 10 years at least.

Kim would be happy to see 20 million people starve in order to stay in power. In the past and recently governments in China, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia have slaughtered millions of their own people and caused the starvation of many more millions to maintain control over the resources of the country. These actions are far worse than anything Bush has done. While Bush is responsible for the deaths of about half a million people in Iraq, he has not risen to the level of these evils.

Posted by: Democrat defending Bush against the ignorant | October 18, 2006 08:47 PM

It's somewhat comforting to hear that Cheney sees Kim as "a cunning and rational strategist". Would it be nice if he and his boss were the same in protecting our interests?

I don't know how much we as a nation has lost by letting go so carelessly of the goodwill of the world. Allow me to share with you an anecdote:

During the first gulf war, I was in China and the chinese youth were so in support of the U.S. that many wanted to volunteer to fight on U.S. side (naively, of course). Today, the same people (who are in 40's now and will be in power soon) see U.S. as a threat who does not want to see China rise.

Why the trouble in North Korea today? Because U.S. failed to show China that NK should be reined in for Chinese interests, as well as for America's. U.S. failed to show that U.S. will not take advantage of a collapsing North Korea to expand its domination to China's front door right across the Yalu river (as Gen. MacArthur wanted in the Korea war).

Only countries in mutual trust will help each other in such strategic level.

Posted by: Expat | October 18, 2006 10:03 PM

What North Korea wants is South Korea.

Kim Jong Il believes hie destiny is "reunification" (i.e., conquest of South Korea), and he'll never stop short of anything less than that goal.

He will invade, even at the risk of war with the U.S.. (All the better to go down in history as the man who defeated America.) He believes that China and Russia will deter a U.S. nuclear retaliation if he launches a nuclear strike against us - obviously a huge miscalculation.

And America is making its own huge miscalculation in believing that he's either bluffing or trying to gain negotiating leverage.

Posted by: Tony | October 19, 2006 10:07 AM

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