Decoding nuclear North Korea
Sue Mi Terry, a former senior North Korea analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency, on why the Kim regime is hell-bent on acquiring a nuclear arsenal.
Produced by Ben Marino. Filmed by Greg Bobillot. Archive by Getty and Reuters
Unfortunately, we know very little about what makes Kim Jong Un tick-- his mindset, his decision-making process. We know what others know, that he was educated abroad in Switzerland. Then he came back to North Korea and that he became the leader. In the past year, I think Kim Jong Un calculates that he's very close to completing the programme so he has really ramped up the frequency of the missile tests in terms of testing other technical capabilities of missile tests and nuclear tests.
Of course, in the midst of all this, he also killed his half brother, Kim Jong Nam, at a major international airport using banned WMD, VX nerve agent. So Kim Jong Un has really ramped up both trying to eliminate his potential rivals, anybody who could challenge Kim, as well as his nuclear missile programme. Kim Jong Un seems to be bent on completing what his father and grandfather have pursued at cost of billions of dollars and millions of lives because they're that much closer to finishing it.
They're very, very close to getting the final deterrent that they want, which is to be able to strike the mainland United States with a nuclear weapon. The most important reason that the North Koreans are pursuing nuclear weapons is because of regime survival. They believe nuclear weapons is the only way to guarantee their survival against hostile interests, and they see the United States as a hostile power that's bent on getting rid of the regime or that is unable to live with North Korea side by side.
So regime survival is at the core of why they are seeking nuclear weapons. Of course, there are other reasons, too-- international prestige, domestic standing, and so on. But really, regime survival is at the heart of this. I think North Korean rhetoric has always been incendiary, always been too much. So anybody who's been following North Korea for decades, the rhetoric that's coming out of the North Korean regime right now, it's not any kind of a surprise.
What is surprising, actually, is from Washington because no US president has used the kind of language that Mr. Trump has used in terms of locked and loaded, fire and fury. But North Korean rhetoric, they have always used this kind of escalatory rhetoric. Diplomatically, realistically speaking, we also have very limited options because North Korea is not willing to return to the negotiating table to talk about denuclearisation. They are no longer interested in negotiating away nuclear weapons.
That means for us to have a diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea, we would have to meet them to discuss a peace treaty or a peace regime. But it's not about denuclearisation anymore. I think the US does not want to accept nuclear North Korea and the US will not ever say that they will accept, but the reality is we will have to live with nuclear North Korea like we live with nuclear Pakistan, nuclear China, nuclear Russia. And if we were able to deter Stalin, we were able to deter Mao, we would be able to deter Kim Jong Un from attacking us.
Deterrence is what we will have to resort to. China has never done what it can and what it should do when it comes to North Korea because China's interests and priorities of the Korean peninsula have been fundamentally different from the United States. China cares about not causing instability, China cares about keeping North Korea as a buffer state. For those reasons, China has never really pressed North Korea.
One of the negative consequences of having to live with nuclear North Korea is the potential for an arms race in the region. Some Koreans are already talking about pulling tactical nuclear weapons back to Korea. More conservative folks are already talking about nuclear rise in South Korea. So if that's the case, Japan could go nuclear and of course, Taiwan could go nuclear. So a potential arms race in the Asian region is one of the negative consequences of living with nuclear North Korea.