Good Korea? Bad Korea?

Good Korea:

In recent weeks, the United States and North Korean Officials have begun to thrash out the details of a plan to allow the resumption of food aid to the North Koreans. Robert King, a U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues has stated that progress has been made in these talks, and the remaining issues should be ironed out in the near future.

As part of this agreement, North Korea has agreed to freeze all its nuclear and missile tests, as well as its uranium enrichment programs. The agreement will also allow the return of U.N. nuclear inspectors. In return, the United States has pledged to provide 240,000 metric tons of “nutritional assistance,” to the country that despite its high military capacity, remains extremely impoverished. United States’ humanitarian aid to the nation had previously been halted in 2009 when tensions grew over North Korea’s nuclear program. The resumption of this program certainly signals a step in the right direction for the relationship between the two nations. U.S. officials are cautiously optimistic that this agreement can be the start of a “new era” in relations with the North that will eventually lead to the resumption of multilateral talks to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

Bad Korea:

Unfortunately, North Korea has recently stepped up its rhetoric against the South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak. Earlier this week, North Korean television aired footage of a military unit carrying out live-fire drills in sight of a South Korean island. It showed tanks and artillery machines being prepared.

Li Gum-chol, a North Korean deputy commander said, “We will turn Seoul into a sea of flames by our strong and cruel artillery firepower. We are training hard, concentrating on revenge to shock Lee Myung-bak’s traitorous group and the military warmongers in South Korea” This is strong and troubling language. While threats of this nature aren’t exactly few and far between, this hostile language is not conducive to the prospect of future peace on the Korean Peninsula.

These two recent developments in North Korea’s foreign policy are on polar ends of the spectrum. While the agreement with the United States is definitely a productive step in the right direction for diplomacy going forward, the continuing hostility between North and South Korea is troubling. So is North Korea moving in the right direction after the death of Kim Jong Il? Or will the next few years see increased hostilities and tension between the the world and North Korea?


  1. The opposite signals given off by these two examples illustrates the uncertainty that underlies the world’s continuing concern regarding North Korea’s intentions. With some perspective, however, it can be flushed out that this uncertainty regarding North Korea’s intentions is not uncommon. What we have is a country with two separate motives in each case, namely to feed its people and gain their support, and to exact revenge on South Korean leadership. These moves are dominated by political and strategic motivations to improve domestic conditions and gain regional power. Perhaps even international recognition. It is unfortunate that nations act with these power driven and political intentions in mind, but we cannot forget the history of the several nations of the world that have employed similar strategies and acted with similar motives. Undoubtedly it is concerning that North Korea has been so direct and forth coming with its hostility towards South Korea, but the world must not play ignorant when it analyzes North Korea’s seemingly conflicting actions. Tensions will rise due to North Korea’s need for domestic improvements (the reason for their nuclear concessions) and subsequent desire for power as demonstrated by their aggressive statements. These conflicting policies should not be entirely foreign to the international community, and should guide them in moving forward with their policies, and maybe quelling the thirst for power of seemingly hostile nations.

  2. The only thing one can really know about North Korea is that one never knows what they are going to do. Their unpredictability is the danger. By apparently deciding to give into the demands of the United States while at the same time reaffirming their aggressive stance against South Korea, North Korea is trying to play both sides and reap the benefits. North Korea is trying to get the aid it desperately needs while maintaining their aggressive stance towards South Korea. The United States should aim to get strong assurances that North Korea is going to do what they say they will before aid resumes. If aid is resumed, the United States needs to make certain it is going to the North Korean people and not to support North Korea’s war machine. The uncertainty of what North Korea will do is the danger.

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