BOOK REVIEW In search of a way out No Exit: North Korea, Nuclear Weapons, and International Security
by Jonathan D Pollack
Reviewed by Shiran Shen
North Korea is of perennial security concern to both its neighbors and the
United States. North Korea is the only state that has ever withdrawn from the
nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and reneged on every denuclearization
agreement it had ever signed.
In late 2010, satellite data indicated that North Korea possessed a
uranium-enrichment facility, and now a potential third nuclear test is
underway. No Exit: North Korea, Nuclear Weapons and International Security
is one of the few books to date in the
English language that provides a detailed, beyond-the-Beltway account of North
Korea's history, leadership, and nuclear development.
With the belief that the how and why of the Korean nuclear impasse must begin
with the North Korean system and its history, author Jonathan Pollack consults
Cold War archives, interviews and technical history, among others, to weave
together the history of North Korea and its nuclear program from its origins
starts out by elaborating on the Korea-first identity, the very notion on which
North Korea was built. North Korea has its own distinctive version of
adversarial nationalism that legitimized the state in an internal context and
provided the foundation on which it interacted with the outside world.
After fighting guerrilla wars in Manchuria in his early life, the Great Leader
Kim Il-sung saw himself as a survivor in a hostile world. Returning to Korea
after 26 years in exile, he established the Korean People's Army and later
founded the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
He distrusted those outside his immediate circle of subordinates. So, echoing
the Korean dynastic tradition of hereditary rule, Kim established that power
should be passed from father to son, an accomplishment unprecedented in
Marxist-Leninist history. He introduced the highly enforced ideology of juche.
Though often translated as "self-reliance", it is better characterized as
"self-determination", meaning that North Korea can get whatever it needs from
different sources in the international system but external factors do not
control its fate.
Kim wanted to make North Korea an impregnable fortress answerable to no outside
forces, and nuclear weapons were a large part of the strategy. It is not yet
known when exactly Kim made the decision to develop a nuclear program, though
it was probably in the early 1970s when China and the former Soviet Union began
to pursue detente with the United States.
Kim Il-sung had three major considerations for nuclear development. First, he
was doubtful of Beijing's and Moscow's unconditional and indefinite support of
his ambitions and plans. He was also envious and fearful of the South's covert
nuclear activities. Finally, the North Korean leader was gravely concerned
about his regime's longer-term prospects, especially the impending leadership
succession. Kim decided that North Korean power, identity, strategic interests
and longevity would be better preserved with nuclear weapons than without.
The North's sense of crisis was reignited when the communist world began to
witness sea changes in the late 1980s. Accompanied by the growing urgency of
leadership succession in the early 1990s, North Korea announced its withdrawal
from the NPT in 1993. The Great Leader passed away the following year. With the
death of Kim Il-sung, Pollack warns that the door to definitive
denuclearization may have closed, considering that Kim Il-sung was the leader
with the stature to engage in high-level nuclear diplomacy and to possibly
consider the ultimate abandonment of nuclear weapons.
In conclusion, Pollack rightly suggests that any assessment of the nuclear
issue must begin with the future of North Korea itself. Pollack identifies a
collective failure of the international community to prevent or inhibit North
Korean nuclear development. During this period, North Korea has become more
invested in a nuclear identity.
As it stands now, North Korea does not feel under any acute pressure to abandon
its nuclear capabilities. Buying time is far from enough, considering that
China remains prepared to serve as North Korea's last resort. Discussion with
North Korea may be more fruitful than discussion about North Korea.
This book is a great resource for anyone who wants to learn more about the
North Korean nuclear strategy in both the academic and policy realms. It's
mostly told from the Korean vantage point, so it serves as a useful complement
to the relatively rich, inside-the-Beltway literature on the development of
United States policy toward North Korea.
No Exit: North Korea, Nuclear Weapons, and International Security by
Jonathan D Pollack. Routledge; 1 edition (May 17, 2011). ISBN-10: 0415670837.
Price US$30, 247 pages.