"Upholding national dignity is much more valuable than a full granary."
- Koguryo's most illustrious statesman Yon Kaesomun (603 - 666)
"People cannot expect to be well off unless their country is independent."
- Yi Korean Dynasty's 4th King Sejong the Great (1397-1450)
"What is of fundamental interest to the destiny and fate of a nation is to
safeguard its independence."
- Korean leader Kim Jong-il
PYONGYANG - In his drive to build a mighty and prosperous country and have the
divided Land of Morning Calm reunified in an independent and peaceful manner,
all indications are that Kim Jong-il, supreme leader of the Democratic People's
Korea (DPRK), has finalized a little-known watershed decision in March to shift
to a "plan B" after more than a dozen years of fruitlessly pursuing "plan A".
The South Koreans now seem to be aware that the Kim Jong-il administration has
shifted to plan B. The Financial Times reported on May 14, "South Korea is
increasingly concerned that North Korea's latest threat to process plutonium to
expand its nuclear arsenal is no longer a negotiating ploy to gain leverage
with the US."
The shift to plan B is a result of a critical policy review of the first three
months of the United States Barack Obama administration and the 16 years of the
two previous administrations of Bill Clinton and George W Bush.
Plan A's failure
Plan A called for the DPRK to consider exploring a shortcut to enhanced
independence, peace and prosperity through rapprochement with the US. Plan A
obliged the Kim Jong-il administration to negotiate away its nuclear weapons
program as part of a verified denuclearization of the whole of the Korean
Peninsula in return for Washington's strategic decision to co-exist peacefully
Plan A assumed the US would decide to leave behind its policy of hostility to
the DPRK, conclude a peace treaty with North Korea, and pledge in a verifiable
way it would not attack it with nuclear and conventional arms. It also assumed
the US would establish full relations with North Korea, show respect for its
sovereignty and independence, lift sanctions imposed on it, and provide it with
fuel oil and light-water reactors.
Plan A was the engine behind the 1994 Agreed Framework with the Clinton
administration and a series of nuclear agreements from six-party talks with the
Bush administration, including the September 19, 2005 joint statement, the
February 13, 2007 agreement, the October 3, 2007 agreement and the July 12,
Despite plan A, the US has remained hostile to North Korea as it is bent on its
nuclear disarmament, painting it as a criminal state, and toppling its regime.
The Clinton administration did not want to fulfill the US's obligations under
nuclear agreements and procrastinated for years, secretly betting on the
collapse of the DPRK. The Bush administration was more overtly antagonistic,
branding the DPRK as part of the "axis of evil", singling out it as a prime
target for a nuclear pre-emptive strike, and moving to discard the nuclear
The US has not adopted a "live and let live" policy towards the DPRK, and it
has refused to take any specific steps to reduce its nuclear threat to it,
while North Korea was close to accepting full normalization of ties and a peace
treaty with the US.
The Obama administration, which was launched with much fanfare and vows to
reverse the disastrous policies of the Bush administration, has struck the Kim
Jong-il administration as unmistakably no different from it in terms of
hostility to the DPRK.
Compelling evidence came in three episodes. The first was the March 9-20 Key
Resolve (Team Spirit) joint war games between the US and South Korea. Secondly,
the US-led United Nation Security Council's (UNSC) condemnation of an innocuous
April 5 satellite launch. The launch was a scientific research experiment
partly intended to serve as a firework display to celebrate the re-election of
Kim Jong-il as the all-powerful National Defense Commission, partly to
demonstrate that North Korea has joined the two elite clubs of nuclear powers
and space powers, and partly to signal it will join a third elite club of
economic tigers by 2012. The third piece of compelling evidence is Obama's
decision to overhaul and restart the Bush administration's military tribunals
for Guantanamo Bay terrorism detainees.
The Key Resolve exercise presented a direct threat to the national security of
the DPRK and served as potent evidence of the US's unchanged readiness to
invade it whenever it is off guard. Its cancellation might have sent a positive
message that the Obama administration would be willing to roll back the hostile
policy of successive administrations to Pyongyang.
The Clinton administration's chief negotiator Robert Galluchi told the Japanese
daily newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun that it was a mistake for the Obama
administration to bring the North Korean satellite launch before the UN and not
to have direct talks with North Korea. The US-initiated UNSC condemnation of
the North Korean satellite launch was further proof of the Obama
administration's true colors.
By taking this path the Obama administration has in three ways:seriously
infringed on the inalienable sovereignty and national dignity of the DPRK:
Firstly, it has obviously attempted to hurt the prestige of Kim Jong-il in the
eyes of the Korean people and spoil the festive mood that enveloped the DPRK in
the wake of the re-election of Kim Jong-il as chairman of the National Defense
Secondly, every nation has a sovereign right to the peaceful use of outer space
and the UNSC has never discussed a satellite launch by any other country. A
total of 5,736 satellites were launched during a 50-year period from 1957 to
the end of 2006 with the US and Russia accounting for about 88% of these and
Japan placed the third with 119, representing a yearly worldwide average of
approximately 120 satellites. In short, a satellite blasts off somewhere in the
world every three days.
Thirdly, the UNSC could not even agree on a term for North Korean satellite,
meaning it effectively condemned the launch of an unidentified flying objects
or UFO. As Dr Gavan McCormack, professor of Australian National University
wrote in Japan Focus on April 13:
Notably, the council nowhere spelled
out what North Korea might have launched, for the simple reason that its
members could not agree: some thought missile, some thought satellite. Unable
to agree on a noun, it therefore compromised with the verb 'launch'. The
council's strong and peremptory diplomatic language - 'condemns', 'demands',
etc - was therefore oddly out of kilter with its inability to decide what it
was condemning. Essentially it was saying North Korea was not to launch any
more unidentified flying objects, or 'UFOs'. 'Whatever it was you launched',
said the Security Council in effect, 'you should not have and you must not do
Plan B sees no point in talking with the US
The Kim Jong-il administration has learned the hard way that there is no point
in negotiating with the US government on a bilateral or multilateral basis
while the US remains hostile with no intention of adopting a "live and let
live" policy towards Pyongyang.
Plan B envisages the DPRK going it alone as a fully fledged nuclear
weapon-armed state, with a military-first policy, and then growing into a
mighty and prosperous country. It will put the policy of seeking reconciliation
with a tricky US, a helpless superpower with a crippled economy that is losing
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, on the back burner.
The DPRK is equipped with all types of nuclear warheads, atomic, neutron and
hydrogen, and their means of delivery puts the whole of the USA within
The Times of London wrote on April 24, 2009: "The world's intelligence agencies
and defense experts are quietly acknowledging that North Korea has become a
fully fledged nuclear power with the capacity to wipe out entire cities in
Japan and South Korea."
The announced vow to quit six-party talks, restart nuclear facilities and
conduct additional nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests is a
clear message that the Kim Jong-il administration's decision to shift to plan B
Plan B will help Kim Jong-il to be comfortable in the driver's seat, as he is
responsible for the destiny and the wellbeing of his people, who are the
inhabitants of ancestral Korean soil bequeathed by Dankun, founder of Korea
5,000 years ago and Chumong, founder of Koguryo 2,000 years ago.
Plan B calls for the DPRK to join all three elite clubs of nuclear, space and
economic powers by 2012, without seeking improved ties or a peace treaty with
the US, as the DPRK has built up an independent global nuclear strike force
which can carry the war all the way to the metropolitan US rather than on the
Kim Jong-il has stated: "The entire party, the entire armed force, the entire
population should re-double their efforts to bring about a new revolutionary
surge, convinced that victory is certain and showing the indomitable spirit and
thus fling open the gate of a great prosperous powerful nation by 2012 and more
strikingly demonstrate the dignity and might of Songun [military-first policy]
According to the May 14, 2009 Financial Times, "South Korean officials
initially saw the sabre-rattling as an effort to test relatively inexperienced
presidents in Seoul and Washington. But now they suspect it is part of a
propaganda campaign to become a 'mighty nation' by 2012, the centenary of the
birth of Kim Il-sung, the nation's founder."
But for the hard-earned nuclear deterrent, the Korean Peninsula might have been
reduced to a second Iraq, with the two booming economies of China, South Korea
and Japan devastated in the expanding war. The US ought to have suffered dozens
of trillion dollars in war spending.
Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing could at least have expressed private appreciation of
the nuclear capability of the DPRK.
This fact was underlined by a former US assistant secretary of defense in an
op-ed published in the March 12, 2003 edition of the Los Angeles Times,
Professor Joseph Nye at Harvard's Kennedy School of Administration, said: "The
decision to focus on Iraq rather than North Korea shows that deterrence works,
but in this case what it shows is North Korea's ability to deter the United
Reporting on the calculations of the true cost of the war by Harvard's Linda
Bilmes and Nobel-prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, the Toronto Star
wrote on January 21, 2008:
They determined that, once you factor in
things like medical costs for injured troops, higher oil prices and
replenishing the military, the war will cost America upwards of $2 trillion.
That doesn't include any of the costs incurred by Iraq, or America's coalition
The $2 trillion cost is simply as a result of
fighting what the US calls "asymmetrical warfare" with tiny ragtag armed groups
that possess none of a modern military force's trappings such as radars, tanks,
heavy artillery pieces, armed drones, warplanes, missiles, Depleted uranium
ammunition, and cluster bombs
The cost of fighting a nuclear-armed fortress DPRK would be dozens of times
greater than that of the Iraq war.
The July/August 2005 edition of the Atlantic Monthly magazine observes:
with North Korea could make Iraq look like child's play - and the longer we
wait, the harder it will get. That's the message of a Pentagon-style war game
involving some of this country's most prominent foreign-policy strategists.
Kim Myong Chol is author of a number of books and papers in Korean,
Japanese and English on North Korea, including Kim Jong-il's Strategy
for Reunification. He has a PhD from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's
Academy of Social Sciences and is often called an "unofficial" spokesman of Kim
Jong-il and North Korea.